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WILLIAM C. LONG, London Street 


All rights reserved 







TT^OIl some time I have been engaged 
-*- in preparing a history of Reading. 
Pew towns possess a greater wealth of 
historical interest, and I regret that the 
pressure of other duties still delays the com- 
pletion of my book. In the meanwhile, I 
have been led to believe, partly as the 
result of my own personal observations, but 
chiefly as the result of representations often 
made to me by those engaged in teaching 
in the elementary and secondary schools 
of Reading, that a brief sketch of local 
history, intended primarily for children, 
might serve a useful purpose. Hence this 
little book. 

In writing it I have throughout been 
guided by one chief aim. I wished to 
make clear the instructive relation between 
the life of the town and the life of the 


kingdom. I wished to present to my readers 
those events and experiences in the history 
of Reading, which are of most significance 
as illustrations of the history of England. 
It will be admitted that I have been for- 
tunate in my subject-matter and opportunity. 
Again and again it has been possible to show 
on the narrow stage at Reading, and close 
at hand, the operation of forces, and the 
effect of events, which have moulded the 
development of the nation. It has always 
appeared to me that no teaching of national 
history could be entirely satisfactory, which 
did not make frequent use of this method. 
The large generalities of history text-books 
— such as the Danish Invasions, Monas- 
ticism, the Reformation, the Personal Rule 
of Charles I., the Napoleonic Wars, Modern 
Civilisation, and the like, must surely ac- 
quire a more pointed and fruitful interest 
for a young student if it can be shown that 
these large experiences meant something 
definite and real and interesting to the place 
in which he lives. The boy or girl who has the 
patience to read Chapters XVIII. — XXXI. of 
this book will at least gain a livelier notion, 


I venture to hope, of what the momentous 
experiences of the age of Puritanism and 
the Civil War meant to a town in southern 

If it should be said that I have omitted 
reference to many points of interest in the 
history of Reading, my defence must be that 
I wished to concentrate attention on the 
features I have indicated, and to keep the 
book within strictly moderate compass. It 
is hardly needful to say that this book is 
not intended to supplant, but rather to 
supplement — locally — the ordinary text- 
books of English history. I hope it may 
do something to deepen the sense of local 

I am indebted to Mr. Leonard Sutton, and 
to Mr. Alfred Palmer, for kindly reading 
through the chapter which sketches briefly 
the origin and progress of the great businesses 
associated with their names. I am grateful 
to Dr. J. B. Hurry for allowing me to base 
my plan of the Abbey buildings upon the 
plan which appeared in his valuable work 
on Reading Abbey. My thanks are also due 
to Miss Edith Morley, Mr. E. M. Stentou, 

viii PREFACE. 

Mr. A. H. Peppin, and to my Avife, for 
assistance in correcting proof-sheets and for 
helpfnl criticism. 

The maps and plans in this hook have heen 
prepared hy Messrs. William Stanford & 
Co., the Oxford Geographical Institute. 


University College, Reading. 
Michaelmas Day, 1905. 



I. Old and New . 1 

II. The Ancient Heart op Reading ... 6 

III. The Making op Reading 13 

IV. How King Alfred fought the Danes at 

Reading 24 

V. The Nunnery op Queen Elfrida . . .30 

VI. What Domesday Book tells us 33 

VII. How King Henry I. founded the Abbey . 39 

VIII. Brethren of St. Francis build a House . 50 

IX. The Gild Merchant and the First Mayors 55 

X. Famous Scenes and Events at Reading 

Abbey 67 

XI. The Long Quarrel between the Gild 

Merchant and the Abbey .... 78 

XII. A Parish Church in the Olden Time . . 86 

XIII. How the Free School was founded . . 92 

XIV. The Fall of the Abbey and the Friary . 98 

XV. How the Last Abbot died for the Old 

Faith 104 

XVI. How a Master of the Free School died 

for the Reformed Faith .... 109 

XVII, Royal JVisits to Reading in Tudor. Times . 113 




XVIII. The Town Three Hundred Years ago . . 115 

XIX. The Plague in Reading 122 

XX. What caused the Great Rebellion . . 124 

XXI. A Star Chamber Punishment . . . .131 

XXII. Ship Money . . . . . . .185 

XXIII. The First Parliamentary Election Con- 

tests 140 

XXIV. William Laud, op Reading, Archbishop of 

Canterbury 145 

XXV. The Siege of Reading 152 

XXVI. John Hampden at Reading . . . .161 

XXVII. How the Mayor of Reading was kidnapped 

by Cavaliers 164 

XXVIII. Incidents in Stuart Times . . . .167 

XXIX. Independents, Baptists, and Friends . . 171 

XXX. Richard Aldworth, Founder of the Blue 

Coat School, and Other Benefactors . 175 

XXXI. Reading Skirmish of 1688 . . . .179 

XXXII. The First Reading Newspaper . . .184 

XXXIII. Roads and Canals 187 

XXXIV. The Great Reading Fairs . . . .193 
XXXV. Prisons and Punishments a Century ago . 196 
XXXVI. The First Public Elementary Schools . 200 
XXXVII. How the Reform Act of 1832 was cele- 
brated 202 

XXXVIII. The Opening of the Great Western Rail- 
way , . . . 2Q5 





XXXIX. The Rise op New Industries . 

XL. The Great Change . . . . ' . . 214 

XLI. The Great Change (continued) . , . 227 

XLII. Conclusion ........ 236 

Index 239 


1. Reading in 1905 .... 

2. Reading in 1813 .... 

3. Reading in 1610 

4. Railway Approaches to Reading 

5. Plan of Reading Abbey 

6. Map to illustrate the Siege of Reading 

7. Approaches to Reading by Water 

Facing p. 6 

„ p. 9 

„ p. 10 

. Atp. 23 

Facing p. 42 

„ p. 156 

. Atp. 191 




In this book the boys and girls of Reading 
will be told the story of the town in which 
they live. Let ns begin by stating two things 
which may perhaps seem surprising. 

The first is that the town of Reading is 
very old. It has not sprung up in a few 
years like many of the towns of America, 
or like some of the manufacturing towns in 
northern England. There has been a town 
of Reading for more than a thousand years, 
and this town has had a famous history. 
When we first hear of Reading, Alfred the 
Great was a young man, England had not 
become one kingdom, and the Danes were 
ravaging our coasts. Think how many Kings 
and Queens have ruled our country since 
the days of Alfred and the Danes, and 



remember that during all that time, more 
than ten centuries, there has been a town 
of Reading*. 

The second thing is that until not long 
ago Heading was quite small. One hundred 
years ago it was only about one-eighth of its 
present size. Even people still alive can well 
remember when it was less than half as big 
as it is now. 

The truth of these two things about Reading 
will be evident presently ; but they may not 
be plain at first sight to every one who visits 
Heading or walks about its streets. A person 
in a hurry would not be likely to discover 
either that Reading is an ancient town or 
that until lately it was a small toAvn. Suppose 
that he is whirled through Reading station in 
an express train, or is borne through the town 
less swiftly on the top of an electric tram, 
or walks about the streets without paying 
much heed to what he sees. What will he 
be likely to think of Reading ? 

From the railway he will see hundreds of 
slated roofs, and brick houses, and some fac- 
tories with tall chimneys. He will notice 
that these houses and buildings fill the valley 
from Caversham Bridge to Whitley Hill and 
Castle Hill, and from Tilehurst to Erleigh. 
He will see at once that Reading is a large 


and busy place. He will have heard that 
Heading is noted both for biscuits and for 
seeds, and perhaps he will know that there 
are now about 75,000 people living in Read- 
ing, and that this number grows at the rate 
of more than a thousand a year. And as he 
goes about the toAvn he cannot fail to notice 
how much of it is new. He will see street 
after street, and road after road, lined with 
houses every one of which has been built in 
the lifetime of a boy or girl of twelve years 
of age. He will see the builders covering the 
green fields with new houses. He may notice 
that very few of the chief buildings in the 
town are really ancient, and perhaps it will 
strike him that a person seventy years of 
age can remember when none of them were 
erected. He can see at a glance that there 
is nothing very ancient about the Biscuit 
Factory, the Hospital, the Prison, the Assize 
Courts, the Town Hall, the University College, 
Heading School, the Elementary Schools, the 
Electric Tram Depot, the Barracks, the Gas 
Works, or about most of the Churches and 
Chapels. Even in the Market Place and in 
Broad Street, where it is clear that there must 
have been buildings for a longer time than 
in the new roads beyond the Cemetery and 
the Workhouse, there have been great changes 


in the last few years. Shops and houses have 
been rebuilt or altered, old streets have been 
widened, and new streets have been made. 
These changes are still going on. So a visitor 
who looked at Reading in this way, and saw 
the crowds of people pouring out of the 
Factory at dinner-time, or going to see a 
football match at Elm Park, or slumping in 
Broad Street on Christmas Eve, would be led 
to think that Heading was a large, bustling 
place with an immense number of new houses 
and buildings. He would be quite right to 
think this, but it is not the whole truth about 
Reading. What is not so easy to perceive 
is that this town, in spite of the fact that 
much of it looks so new, is really very 
ancient. And what is not likely to be found 
out, without thought and inquiry, is where- 
abouts exactly this ancient part lies. What 
is not so quickly understood is that, until 
recently and for long ages, this ancient part 
was all the Reading there was. 

Yet any one can see these things for himself 
who is willing to take a little trouble. 

Here is an illustration which will tell us 
how to go to work. Suppose you take a plant 
and cut away the outer leaves and twigs, and 
then still keep on cutting away the outer 
parts. If you do this long enough you will 


come at last to the stem and root. The stem 
lies in the middle and at the heart, and with 
the root it is the oldest part of the plant. 
Now, all old towns are like plants, since they 
have a stem, or oldest part, usually towards 
the middle. If, then, we cut away the suburbs 
or outlying parts of Reading, we shall come 
at last to the stem or ancient heart. 



Here is a plan of the Heading of to-day.* It 
will tell us a great deal, and to this we can 
add our own knowledge of Heading, gained 
by our daily walks through its streets. Thus 
perhaps we shall be able to settle what is 
the stem or ancient heart of Reading. 

There are several ways of finding this out. 
Let us choose what is perhaps the easiest. 
Let us find out which churches in Reading 
are the oldest. England has been a Christian 
country for about thirteen centuries, and there- 
fore it is likely enough that there are some 
ancient churches in Reading. 

Now the plan will tell you where many 
of the churches and chaj)els are situated, 
but it will not tell you which of them are 
the oldest. To find this out you must go 

* The plan opposite does not try to give more than a 
general idea of the extent of the town to-day. Almost the 
whole area south of the Great Western main line is now 
covered with streets and houses. 




and look at them, or you must recall what 
they are like in appearance. You need not 
know much about architecture to be able 
to judge. There are plenty of fresh-looking 
churches or chapels, such as St. Bartholo- 
mew's in London Road, or St. George's near 
Oxford Road, or All Saints' in Downshire 
Square, or the Presbyterian church in London 
Road, which clearly are not old at all. They 
have not even got graveyards, whereas, until 
cemeteries were established about fifty years 
ago, every church had a grassy space around 
it where the dead were laid to rest. These 
new-looking churches, then, without grave- 
yards, cannot be the ones we want. Already 
you will have settled in your minds which are 
the oldest churches, for they are not easily 
mistaken. They are three — St. Mary's, St. 
Lawrence's, and St. Giles's. The first two 
have ancient-looking square towers with battle- 
ments at the top and pinnacles at the corners, 
and the third has a low tower surmounted 
by a tapering spire. All three are built of 
stone and flint ; all three have fine peals of 
bells ; all three have large churchyards full 
of time-worn tombstones. These are the 
three ancient parish churches of Reading. 
For many ages they have watched over the 
town beneath them, 


Besides these three churches there is one 
other which is also old. It is not perhaps 
so old to look at as the others, for much of 
it has heen rebuilt in modern times. Yet it 
is much older than any church or chapel in 
Beading except St. Mary's, St. Lawrence's, 
and St. Giles's. Its name alone tells us that 
it must have been founded centuries ago. It 
is called the church of the Grey Friars. There 
have been no grey friars in Beading for more 
than three hundred and fifty years, yet still 
the church keeps the ancient name. Later 
on you Avill hear how this church came to 
be founded, and then you will know that it 
has stood for about six centuries. The other 
three have stood even longer. 

Now turn to the map, and note carefully 
the position of each of these four churches. 
They are by far the oldest churches in the 
town. There is no other place of worship 
in Beading which is more than about a 
hundred years old. Therefore, we may be 
sure that around or near these four churches 
the oldest Beading lay. Should we not look 
for the stem and ancient heart of Beading 
within the space of which the churches of 
St. Lawrence, and St. Giles, and Grey Friars 
are the corners ? 

It so happens that we can prove easily that 




we are right in thinking that old Reading lay 
within this space. For we have two maps : 
one showing Reading as it was nearly one 
hundred years ago, in 1813; the other show- 
ing Reading as it was nearly three hundred 
years ago, in 1610. 

Let us look first at the 1813 map.* It 
contains many curious things, ahout which 
questions might be asked. But all we need 
notice just now is that nearly all the houses 
in Reading, as it was in 1813, lay within the 
space of which the churches of St. Lawrence, 
and St. Giles, and Grey Friars are the corners. 
If we were to extend our limits a little we 
might say that, except for a few houses along 
Castle Street, almost all Reading in 1813 lay 
within a three-sided figure whose base was 
Friar Street and whose two sides united 
on the top of Whitley Hill. One of these 
two sides was formed by the Market Place, 
London Street, and " Sivier Street " (now 
Silver Street) ; the other by the " Butts," 
"Seven Bridges," "Horn Street," and South- 
ampton Street. Outside these limits were the 
open fields. In 1813 there were no rows of 
houses along Oxford Road ; nor along London 
Road, then called " New Street " ; nor along 
Caversham Road ; nor along Bath Road ; nor 

* The map is taken from John Man's History of Reading. 


between Bath Road and Oxford Road. King's 
Road and Queen's Road did not exist at all. 

A century ago, therefore, Reading was very 
much smaller than it is to-day. We also see 
clearly that in order to reach the stem or 
ancient heart of Reading Ave must cut away 
all the outlying suburbs until we approach 
close to the four ancient churches. 

Such was Reading a hundred years ago. 
Next, let us look at Reading as it was in 
1610. This is a different kind of map, hut 
it is easy to understand. It contains even 
more curious things than the other map. 
Our concern with it now, however, is to find 
out what it tells us about the site and extent 
of Reading in 1610. Now the more you study 
this map of 1610 the more you will be struck 
by the way in which it agrees in regard to 
these points with the map of 1813. Once more 
nearly all the houses are found near the four 
ancient churches of St. Mary, St. Lawrence, 
St. Giles, and the " Priory " (Grey Friars). 
Once more we can say that almost all Reading, 
except for a few houses along Castle Street, 
lies within the three- sided figure whose base is 
Friar Street and whose two sides meet on 
Whitley Hill. Outside these limits all was 
open fields ; and in order to tell us this the 
old map-maker has sketched a maid milking 



a cow, and horses prancing, in a meadow 
just behind London Street. 

The map of 1610, therefore, agrees as to 
the extent of Reading with the map of 1813. 
But both of them, and chiefly the map of 
1610, tell us something more about the ancient 
heart of Heading. They show clearly that 
the chief part of Heading in those old times 
lay on the northern bank of the Kennet. 
Notice this particularly in the map of 1610. 
On the northern bank of the Kennet were 
three out of the four ancient churches, and 
when Ave remember that the one to the south 
bears the name of St. Giles, that St. Giles 
was the patron saint of beggars, and that 
old churches named after him are often 
situated on the highway just outside a town, 
we have further proof that the oldest Heading 
lay on the northern bank of the Kennet 
rather than on the southern. We know 
that on the northern side was the oldest 
Town Hall, though it is not marked on this 
map. On the northern bank also was the 
Free School, as the map shows ; here too was 
the Market Place ; and here, lying a little to 
one side, was the great Abbey of Heading. 

We may therefore feel sure that the oldest 
part of Heading lies on the northern bank 
of the Kennet between the churches of 


St. Lawrence and St. Mary, and betAveen the 
church of Grey Friars and High Bridge. 
This is the stem or ancient heart of Reading. 
Here men settled first, and on this ground the 
town of Reading first arose. For hundreds 
of years there were hardly any houses out- 
side these ancient limits. Then, but at what 
date nobody can say, the town began to 
extend a little across the Kennet, and the 
streets now called Southampton Street and 
London Street gradually came to be lined 
with houses. Three hundred years ago this 
extension was already old ; yet, even so, most 
of the houses still lay clustered together on 
the northern bank of the Kennet. One hun- 
dred years ago the town in appearance was 
scarcely any bigger than in 1610. In the 
nineteenth century it grew with astonishing 
swiftness in all directions, and this growth 
still goes on. The causes of growth will be 
explained in a later chapter. 



We have now seen that Reading is an old 
town, and that during most of its long 
history it has been quite small. We have 
seen whereabouts this old Reading lay. 
In what follows about its history we must 
always picture Heading to ourselves — until 
we come to recent years — as a little town 
gathered round its ancient parish churches, 
most of it lying on the northern bank of the 
Kennet, and all of it encompassed by fields 
and meadows. 

Before, however, we proceed with its story 
let us ask this question — how came there to 
be a town here at all ? 

It is worth while to try to find an answer 
to this question, for an answer there must be. 
Towns and villages do not grow up by chance. 
Some one founds them, and if they grow to 
strength and honour it is because men try to 
make them grow, and because their situation 


helps them to grow. In the new countries 
of the world to-day, in the United States 
and in Australia, new towns and villages are 
founded every year by bands of settlers. And 
in every case these settlers choose one spot 
for settlement rather than others because of 
some advantage they believe it to possess— 
its fertile soil, good water, pleasant prospects, 
healthiness, its safe or convenient situation. 
This has always been the way of settlers, 
here and everywhere, now and in olden 

What, then, was the reason which led men 
to settle at Reading ? 

We cannot answer that question as if it 
were an easy question in arithmetic. No one 
knows or will ever know anything about til' 1 
man who first settled in Reading, or at any 
rate gave to Reading its name. The name 
Reading, which is spelled in the old records 
in more than a hundred different ways, means 
the persons, goods, or property belonging to 
a man called Haed. But that is all that is 
known about Raed. 

But if we cannot answer this question 
altogether — how came tit ere to be a Head- 
ing? — we can answer it in part. We can 
tell pretty clearly why people thought Read- 
ing a good place for a settlement. We can 


understand why a settlement once made there 
was likely, as time went on, to grow and 

Any one can see that Reading was well 
situated. It lay on a sunny gravel slope, at 
the foot of which ran the streams of Kennet. 
The Kennet gave water ; it gave fish ; it 
conld turn millwheels for grinding corn. In 
later times its waters were very convenient 
for dyeing cloth. All around was good land 
for corn and pasture — the corn -land on the 
higher ground ahove the risk of floods, the 
pasture in the meadows along the Thames and 
the Kennet. In the woods near at hand 
there was plenty of fuel and timber. Along 
the rivers were reeds for making thatch, and 
osiers for making baskets and wicker-work. 
Before bricks were used, houses were often 
made of a sort of Avicker-work plastered with 
clay ; and the clay of Reading was plentiful, 
and in later times it has made good bricks 
and tiles. Here, then, are some reasons why 
men should think Reading a good place for a 

To these reasons we may add another. We 
may feel sure that the first settlers chose this 
particular place partly because they found out 
that the Kennet could here be easily forded 
or crossed. Whether because the Kennet then 


ran in a broad and shallow stream, or because 
the river-bed here was hard and gave good 
foothold, or because it ran (as we know it ran 
in later times) * in several little channels 
easily crossed, it is certain that there has 
been from early times a ford, crossing, or 
bridge over the Kennet at Reading. Now if 
you have business on both banks of a river, it 
will save you much time and labour if you 
live near a ford or bridge. Therefore, one 
reason why men settled at Reading was because 
they wished to live near the ford or bridge 
over the Kennet. There is, indeed, little 
doubt that the very first or oldest settlement 
at Reading was on the rising ground, a little 
to the north of the ford, near where St. Mary's 
church now stands. Two interesting facts 
make us think that this was the first site. 
One is that the street running down by St. 
Mary's church to the Kennet was anciently 
called Old Street. It is so named on the 
map of 1610 ; but it bore this name long 
before 1610. The other is that this part of 
the town was anciently called Old Ward. 
The use of these names makes it clear that 
hundreds of years ago the townsmen looked 
upon this as the oldest part of Reading. 

Let us next consider why a settlement once 

* See tie map of 1610, facing p. 10. 


made at Reading was likely as time went on 
to grow and prosper. 

There are many reasons why Reading has 
grown and prospered, and some of them will 
appear in the course of this hook. But 
there has been one chief reason. I mean the 
geographical situation of Beading ; that is, 
its position on the map of England. 

If you look at a map of England, you 
will see that Beading lies in the very heart 
of southern England. Perhaps you know 
already that until about a century and a half 
ago, until the days of coal and steel and 
cotton, this part of England was by far the 
richest and most thickly peopled. Until about 
a century and a half ago, nearly all the wealth 
and population of England was to be found 
south of a line drawn from the Wash to the 
Bristol Channel. Beading lies in the very 
heart of this favoured region. 

This advantage of central situation, however, 
would have helped Beading but little had it 
not been accompanied by another advantage 
equally important. If Beading had been 
situated on the top of a steep hill surrounded 
by swamps, few people would ever have 
come near it, and it could not have become 
an important town. But, on the contrary, 
Beading has always been very easy of approach. 



In all ages travellers and traders have 
been able to reach and to leave Reading 
with ease.* Further, important routes of 
communication have always passed through 
Reading, and so there has always been a 
constant flow of traffic through the town, and 
such traffic has helped forward its prosperity. 
These routes of communication have been first 
of all, the rivers ; then, the roads ; and then, 
the railways. Nowadays, river, road, and 
railway are all in use together. 

(1) The Rivers. 

Reading has always profited greatly 
because of its situation on the Kennet, and 
because of its nearness to the great waterway 
of the Thames. From early times barges have 
carried goods between Reading and London, 
and Reading and Oxford. In the eighteenth 
century, when the river systems were joined 
by canals, it was also possible to go by water 
from Reading to Bristol, and to Birmingham, 
and to Lwerpool. Immense quantities of 
goods were carried to and from Reading by 

* In a later chapter (p. 187) we shall see that the roads 
leading to Reading sometimes fell into a bad state of repair, 
but probably they were not worse than roads leading to 
other places. There was nothing in the situation of 
Reading to make approach to it difficult. 


water in the days before railways. In 1835 it 
was calculated that 50,000 tons of goods were 
carried to and from Reading every year, and 
that all but 100 tons of this large quantity 
was carried by water. The waterways, then, 
have always been of great service to Reading 
trade, because heavy goods could be carried 
in barges so much more easily and cheaply 
than on packhorses and waggons by road.* 

(2) The Roads. 

The rivers were perhaps used for traffic 
more than the roads in earlv times. Yet in 
all ages a very important main road has passed 
through Reading. If you turn to the nuvp of 
England, you will see that a line drawn from 
London, the great city and port on the east, 
to Bristol, the great city and port on the 
west, will pass through, or very near to, 
Reading. As a matter of fact, this main 
highway from west to east passes through 
Reading, and you can easily trace the course 
it has taken through the town. 

In the first place, you will remember that 
on the west side of Reading there is a broad 
road called the Bath Road, and that Bath is 
on the way to Bristol. On the east side of 

* A map illustrating the waterways will be found at 
p. 191. 


Reading there is another broad road called 
the London Road. Supposing that you were 
travelling by coach a hundred years ago from 
Bristol to London, by what streets would you 
pass through Reading ? You would come 
along the Bath Road, and down Castle Hill 
and Castle Street. At the bottom of Castle 
Street you would turn sharply to the right, 
up Bridge Street. There still stands in Bridge 
Street, on the right-hand side, a large dingy- 
looking building, now used as the yeomanry 
head quarters. This is the old Bear Inn, once 
a noted coaching inn. Here perhaps you 
would change horses. Then you would hasten 
on over the Kennet bridges and away up 
the hill |)ast St. Giles's church. At Crown 
Street you would turn sharply to the left, and 
here you would pass another old coaching 
inn, called the Crown Inn, long since pulled 
down. As you passed this inn you would see 
stretching before you the broad elm-shadowed 
London Road. Such was the course taken by 
the old east and west road through Reading. 
In all ages there has been a great traffic upon 
it, and in all ages this traffic has helped to 
make Reading prosperous. 

But besides the London and Bristol Road, 
there is another road, perhaps even more 
ancient, passing through Reading which once 


had much importance. This was the road 
which connected Reading with Oxford, and 
with the midland country beyond Oxford. 
Nowadays if you wanted to walk or ride to 
Oxford you would leave Reading by the 
present Oxford Road. But two hundred 
years ago or earlier you could not have gone 
this way, because there was then no such road. 
How would you have gone ? You would have 
left Reading by Caversham Bridge. 

We must not forget this bridge over the 

Thames at Caversham, and how near it is to 

Reading, and how important to Reading it 

has always been. Once, like so many old 

bridges, it was beautiful and interesting, with 

a chapel in the middle of it, where a wayfarer 

might turn aside to j)ray. There has been a 

bridge there for nearly seven centuries, if not 

longer, and probably before the bridge was 

made there was a ford. The old way to 

Oxford from Reading crossed the bridge at 

Caversham, and then turned \vp the hill past 

the church to the left of the bridge, and so 

struck over the hills north-west to Oxford. 

It was along this old road, approaching 

Reading by Caversham Bridge, that King 

Charles I. marched his soldiers from Oxford 

in 1643, in the hope of relieving Reading, 

then besieged by the Roundheads. 


Until modern times bridges across the 
Thames were very few, and therefore through- 
out its long history the bridge at Caversham 
has been very important to Reading. For 
ages all the Oxfordshire villages within a 
dozen miles of Caversham have been able to 
do most of their marketing at Heading because 
of this bridge. And similarly, because of this 
bridge, in all ages a stream of traffic from the 
southward of Reading has passed through 
Reading on its way into Oxfordshire. 

(3) The Railways. 

To-day the greatest route for traffic 
is neither highway nor river. The Crown 
Inn has been pulled down, and the Bear Inn 
has long been closed. New inns have sprung 
up in another part of the town to serve a 
new line of traffic. This line is the railway. 
Notice, first, that the Great Western Railway, 
which connects London with Bristol and the 
west, runs, just like the old great western 
road, through Reading ; and secondly, that 
because of this great trunk line a number 
of other railways unite with it at Reading. 
Here is a map which shows how Reading now 
lies at the centre of a railway system which 
enables traffic to reach it and to leave it in 
almost any direction. 






Creat Western Railway **=«■=-«• 

Great Central » ■pn-mm-ro 

London ^Southwestern , — — -» ' 


London &. North Western -z ^ 
South Eastern&Chatham . 

Princes A 

London . Brighton & South Coast >"n»> 

ftisborough TI 







William Stanford ^Company, Ltd , 

Therefore, Ave can see clearly that in all 
ages the situation of Reading has been very 
favourable for the growth of its trade and 
traffic. This, more than anything else, has 
been the reason why the settlement at 
Reading grew and throve. 



The first time we hear anything concerning 
Reading is in the year 871. At that date 
England was not yet one kingdom under 
one king. The English had been settled in 
England for more than four centuries. Slowly 
and by hard fighting they had won the country 
from the Britons who had possessed it before 
them. They had become Christians ; and 
churches and monasteries had been raised to 
the glory of God and for the service of man. 
They had produced poets and scholars. Still, 
however, the land was severed into different 
kingdoms, often at strife with one another. 
Of these kingdoms the biggest and strongest 
was now Wessex, the kingdom of the West 
Saxons. It stretched from Kent on the east 
to the river Tamar in the west, beyond which 
lay Cornwall or "West Wales"; and from 
the shores of the English Channel to the banks 
of the Thames. Wessex therefore filled all 



the south and west of England. Winchester, 
once a Roman city, was its capital ; and 
Reading, by the Thames, was one of its 
northern towns. 

We do not know when people first began 
to live at Reading. We have no knowledge 
of Reading at all until the end of the year 
871, when, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 
the Danes came to Reading in Wessex, and 
built themselves a strong camp between the 
rivers Thames and Kennet, near the point 
where their waters mingle. 

In your English histories you will have 
read of these Danes or Northmen, the fierce 
pirates whose home lay beyond the North Sea, 
in Denmark, and among the winding fiords 
and tall headlands of Norway. They loved 
fighting and adventure, and every year, when 
the cold and storms of winter were over, they 
used to draw their long black ships down to 
the waves and sail away in quest of what 
fortune might bring them. Band after band 
of these sea-rovers swept clown upon the 
eastern coasts of England, and everywhere, 
even far inland, their passage was marked by 
tumult and butchery and the smoking ruins 
of house and home, church and monastery. 
They spoke no English. They were heathen, 
and haters of the English faith in Christ. 


Fighting was their stern joy and glory ; they 
knew neither shame nor pity. They went into 
battle singing of war and tempest, carrying 
two-handed axes five feet long in the shaft 
and a foot long in the blade, with which at 
a blow skulls were cleft to the shoulder. 
Northern and eastern England had yielded 
to them, and now at last the conquerors turned 
to southern England, to the unvexed realm 
of the West Saxons, called Wessex. And they 
came to Reading first of all. 

The Chronicle tells us that they came on 
horseback. Perhaps they rode along the 
ancient " Icknield Way," the old track of the 
early men, the lonely grassy road which still 
leads from eastern England along the foot 
of the Chiltern Hills, and enters Berkshire at 
Streatley, only a few miles from Reading. 
By whatever way they came, it is certain that 
they stayed in Reading for more than a year, 
and it is likely that the unhappy people of 
Beading were either slaughtered at once, or 
made captive, or driven forth to seek refuge 
in the villages around. 

But the Berkshire men were staunch, and 
when the alarm was given that the Danes 
were at Beading, and were laying waste the 
land according to their wont, the Ealdorman 
of the Shire, whose duty it was, called the 


fighting meu to his standard, and led them to 
battle. From many a wattled hamlet along 
the river valleys and among the forest tracts 
and windy downs, these sons of old England 
came forth to war. They had neither iron 
eaj) nor shirt of mail nor two-handed axe. 
Their best men carried only sword and spear, 
and there were many who fought with stone 
hammer, and even with scythe. They met 
the Danes at Englefield, which means "the 
Field of the English." rive miles to the west 
of Eeading. and there they fought so bravely 
that they beat the Danes, and chased them 
to their camp at Reading. Three days after 
their victory the Berkshire men were joined 
by Ethelred, King of the West Saxons. With 
the King was one greater than he. the prince. 
his brother, afterwards King of the West 
Saxons, renowned for ever as Alfred the Great. 
Cheered by their victory at Englefield, the 
King and Alfred and all their host pushed 
forward to the camp at Eeading and tried to 
drive out the Danes. But the Danes had the 
shelter of their ditch and palisade, and the 
English could not break in upon them nor 
drive them out. Rushing forth at last, the 
Danes beat the English back in rout, and 
Ethelwulf. the brave Ealdorman of Berkshire, 
was left among the dead. 


Thus at Englefield and at Reading began 

what was called in after time the " year of 

battles," during which the Danes held to their 

camp at Reading. The most famous of these 

battles was at Ashdown, on the Berkshire 

Downs, near an ancient thorn- tree and not 

far from the town of Wantage, where Alfred 

was born. Here at Ashdown the valour and 

skill of Alfred shone forth, and on that day 

men first understood how stern a captain, how 

great a patriot he was. Ethelred, the King, 

was hearing prayers in his tent, and when the 

battle broke upon the English he still tarried 

upon his knees. Alfred sent him message 

after message, and at last could wait for him 

no longer. Like a wild boar, says the chronicler, 

he charged with his men up the hillside upon 

the Danes. Long and furious was that battle 

of long ago upon the grassy slopes now still 

and forsaken, but at nightfall the Danes broke 

their array, and fled across the hills to their 

refuge at Reading. One of their kings and 

five of their great nobles were left among the 

dead upon the field of battle. 

Next year Ethelred, the King, died, and 
Alfred became King in his stead. A peace 
was made, and then at length the Danes left 
their camp at Reading and went away to 


It is, then, in association with these deeds 
and men of old renown that the name of 
Reading is first written in the pages of the 
history of England. Should yon go to Win- 
chester, the famous old city where Alfred 
was buried, yon will see there a noble statue 
of the King who fought the Danes at Reading. 
The towering figure holds on high a great 
cross-hilted sword. By sword and cross Alfred 
lived and wrought for England, defender of 
his people, defender of their faith. 



After this we hear very little ahout Reading 
for more than two hundred years. We may 
suppose that after the Danes had gone away 
the people gradually came back and rebuilt 
their little houses near the ford of the Ken net. 
For more than two centuries their life is 
hidden from us save for two glimpses. In 
986 Queen Elfrida, wife of Edgar, King of 
England, is said to have founded at Reading 
a nunnery in atonement for the murder of 
Edward, King of England, known as the 
Martyr. Elfrida was the stepmother of 
Edward, who became king in 975, when he 
was only thirteen years old. Four years later 
he was murdered. You may have heard the 
story as it has come clown to us. It is said 
that he was returning in the evening to Corfe 
Castle, after hunting all day, and that before 
dismounting from his horse, being tired and 
thirsty, he called for a cup of wine. As he 



leaned forward to take the cup he was stabbed. 
He tried to ride away, but fell from his 
horse and was dragged by the stirrup, and so 
died. There is little doubt that Elfrida, his 
stepmother, brought about his murder. In 
after years she repented of her crime, and 
tried to atone for it by such acts as the build- 
ing of this nunnery at Reading. It is said 
that this old nunnery stood where the church 
of St. Mary now stands. 

The only other glimpse of Reading during 
this period comes tAventy years after the 
founding of Elfrida's nunnery. In 1006, 
when Ethelred, known as the " Redeless " 
(that is, " without counsel "), was King of 
England, there again occurred a terrible 
invasion of the Danes. These invasions, you 
may remember, were now no longer merely 
for the sake of plunder and adventure. They 
were made with the object of conquering 
the whole country. In this aim the Danes 
at last succeeded, and for a time they were 
masters of England. Every one remembers 
King Canute, their famous leader. The only 
concern, however, that Heading had with these 
events belongs to the year 1006, when Sweyn 
of Denmark issued from his retreat in the 
Isle of Wight, went raiding through the south 
of England, and, among other deeds, burned 


Reading, Wallingford, and Cholscy along the 
Thames. It is likely enough that Elfrida's 
nunnery was destroyed at this time, and we 
may also suppose that from this second Danish 
attack the town recovered but slowly. 


Eor our next information about Reading we 
must look in Domesday Book. This famous 
book was drawn up by order of William the 
Conqueror nearly twenty years after the battle 
of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of 
England. The purpose of the Book was to 
give the King and his officers a clear and 
faithful account of every town and village in 
the realm, so that they could easily reckon 
how much of the great land tax called Dane- 
geld each holder of land ought to pay.* The 
gathering together of so much information 
took a long time, and we may picture to 
ourselves the King's officers riding from place 
to place through the country, and questioning 
the chief men of towns and villages, and 

* Danegeld was originally tribute-money paid by the 
English to the Danes. It is first mentioned in the year 
991. Danegeld was one of King William's most valuable 
sources of income. He used it to the full. " He laid on 
men a geld exceeding stiff," 


carefully writing clown their answers. All this 
information was afterwards brought to order 
and written out fair in Latin in a book which 
obtained, no one knows how, the name of 
Domesday Book. What the Book tells us 
about Beading takes up only twenty-one 
lines. Little as it is, it is enough to make 
us understand that the Beading of King 
"William was different indeed from the Beading 
of to-day. 

Beading, the Book says, belonged to the 
King. It was a "king's manor," and it was 
heavily taxed. The little town, if we may 
call it a town, was still chiefly busy with 
agriculture. Bloughing and sowing and reap- 
ing were its business rather than making and 
buying and selling goods. The cluster of 
houses stood amidst tracts of j^loughland 
and meadow. Beyond this again was the 
waste. Some of the Beading land was farmed 
by King William himself, and the rest of 
it was farmed under him by the people of 
the town. Most of these peojDle were called 
villeins. A villein was a man who had a little 
farm. He did not at this date pay a rent in 
money for his farm, but instead of a money 
rent he was obliged, during part of his time, 
to labour without wages and to perform other 
services for the lord of the manor, in this 


case the King. These villeins could not go 
away from Heading, nor get married, nor bny 
and sell oxen, nor grind corn, without the 
leave of the lord of the manor. So that, 
although they were perhaps not usually very 
badly off, yet they were not really free to do 
as they liked. There were fifty-five of these 
villeins, and below them were thirty bordars, 
or cottagers. There were four mills. The 
Kennet then and long afterwards flowed not 
in one or two channels, but in many little 
channels, and these swiftly flowing streams 
were well suited for driving water-mills. It 
is likely enough that one or more of the 
Domesday mills stood on the site of the town 
mills in Mill Lane, a spot now covered by the 
Tramway Depot.* There w r ere three fisheries, 
and there was w r oodland enough to pasture a 
hundred pigs. The woodland would doubtless 
be situated towards the borders of the Reading 
lands. Ploughing was then done by oxen, 
and we know from the record that there must 
have been at least 400 oxen on the manor of 

Domesday Book further tells us that Reading 
was a burh, or borough. Burh is an old 
English word, and it meant at first a fortified 
hill-to]3, or a camp, or a palisaded dwelling, 

* See map of 1610 facing p. 10. 


In times somewhat later the strong places of 
a district came to be called burhs, and it was 
the dnty of the landholders to keep the burh 
in a good state of defence. Such a burh was 
Wallingford, where there was a noted ford 
and bridge over the Thames. At the time 
of Domesday Book there is no doubt that 
Wallingford was a far more important place 
than Reading. Reading, however, at that 
time was the only place in Berkshire called 
a burh besides Wallingford. There may have 
been some kind of stronghold at Beading, but 
if so we cannot be sure where it was. It 
is certain that Beading was never a town 
enclosed by walls and gates. 

A burh was usually something else besides 
a place of strength. Usually it was a place 
of trade, of buying and selling. It is likely 
that there were already in Beading a few 
traders. The Saxon laws only allowed mints, 
where coined money was made, to be placed 
in burhs. A burh was considered to be a 
safe place ; hence traders resorted to it, 
and so a mint would be useful. So we are not 
surprised to learn that even before the Norman 
Conquest there was a mint in the burh of 

Domesday Book also tells us that the Abbot 
of Battle Abbey had property in Beading. 


He had a church there, and some tenants, 
and two mills, and some fisheries, and plough- 
land and meadows, and enough woodland for 
five pigs. The name "Battle" still survives 
in Reading in Battle Earm and Battle School. 
This is almost all that the entry in Domesday 
Book tells us concerning Beading. Poor and 
small as it was, it was one of the most valuable 
manors in Berkshire. 


How far away it seems — this Beading of 
Domesday Book ! Yet, can you not picture 
it lying there on the rising ground just north 
of the ford or bridge over the Kennet ? Up 
from the Kennet crossing ran the miry street, 
and huddled together on either side of it were 
the " cots " of the villeins and bordars, built 
of clay and turf and wattles, each in its little 
" toft " or yard. Among them stood the 
church, perhaps of wood also, belonging to 
the Abbot of Battle. Around and spreading 
far were the wide hedgeless fields where, fol- 
lowing the ploughman with his lumbering 
team of eight oxen, the sower flung the seed 
broadcast upon the freshly turned earth. In 
the distance were the thickets and swamps, 
still the haunt of wolves and beavers. By 
the rivers were the mills for grinding corn, 
and near to them the pasture whither at dusk 


the oxherd drove the slowly moving oxen. 
Those who dwelt in this little town chiefly 
laboured in the fields for their scanty living. 
Besides the field-folk there might be a priest, 
a bailiff, a salter, a baker, a miller, a smith, 
a wheelwright, and perhaps a few chapmen or 
traders. Life was hard for all, though at 
harvest-tide and Yule-tide and such times 
there were rude f eastings and merrymakings. 
In summer perhaps it was well enough. But 
in winter the cold pinched, and food was 
scarce. Then the rivers rose in flood and 
filled the wide valleys with rushing waters, 
and thick mists hung above the undrainecl 
lands. The people of those days were glad 
indeed to hear the cry of the cuckoo in the 
woods, for then they felt that summer once 
again was nigh. 



Fkom 108G, the date of Domesday Book, until 
1121 we know nothing of the fortunes of 
Reading. This was a period of much suffering 
for the English jjeople, for they were oppressed 
by their Norman masters. The days when 
the two races should become one and forget 
their bitter strife were not yet. 

Prom 1100 to 1135 the King of England 
was Henry I. Henry, nicknamed " the Clerk " 
because of his studious tastes, was the youngest 
son of William the Conqueror. Like his 
father before him, he was a mighty hunter 
and a hardworking King. He ruled sternly, 
and sometimes cruelly, yet the people praised 
the good order that he kept. Robbers and 
lawbreakers, whether of low or high degree, 
got no mercy from him. " Good man he 
was," says the chronicler of those days, " and 
great awe there was of him. No one durst 
misdo another in his time. Peace he made 



for man and deer." He built many churches 
and monasteries ; and he it was, Henry the 
Clerk, Henry the burly, black-haired hunter, 
who founded the renowned Abbey of Reading. 

At this time monasteries were arising in 
all parts of England. These monasteries, of 
which the greater were called abbeys, were 
settlements of religious men (less often of 
religious women), who turned away from the 
pleasures of the world and vowed to live, 
quietly and apart, a life of piety and good 
works. Often they chose for their refuges 
places wild and solitary, such as the vales 
of Yorkshire or of Wales. They did a noble 
work in preserving and upholding learning. 
Besides this, they were skilful farmers ; they 
made roads and bridges ; and they brought 
more and more of the waste land into cul- 
tivation. Sometimes, no doubt, the monks 
who dwelt in these monasteries forgot their 
high purpose and grew careless and lazy ; 
but for ages they laboured truly, and the 
buildings that they raised are still, though 
now desolate and in ruins, among the most 
beautiful we possess. And we should not 
forget that noble buildings cannot be built 
by ignoble men. 

Henry, the King, resolved to build a great 
Abbey at Reading. Perhaps he had noticed 


that Reading was well situated, as we have 
already seen, for those who had any need 
to travel about the country ; and perhaps 
he had noticed also that, lying protected 
between the Kennet and the Thames, there 
was, at the spot now called the Eorbury 
Gardens, a piece of high ground commanding 
fair prospects and never flooded by the rivers. 
Here in security an Abbey might well stand. 

The task of building the Abbey was begun 
in the year 1121. It was more than forty 
years before even the main buildings were 
finished. Seven monks from the Abbey of 
Cluny in France crossed the sea at the King's 
request to tell the workmen how to set about 
their task. The Abbey of Cluny was a branch 
of the great Benedictine Order of monasteries, 
and the monastery of Reading thus became 
a Benedictine monastery. It was planned on 
a grand scale. Within the strong boundary 
wall of the monastery were thirty acres of 
ground. The enclosure reached from the 
present Town Hall to beyond the Prison, and 
from the South Western Railway arch to 
about the line of King's Road.* The boundary 
wall was pierced by four stately gateways, 
and was divided within into two main courts. 
The chief gateway was the Compter gateway, 

* See the Plan cf the Abbey facing p. 42. 


which stood just at the north end of the 
Market Place by St. Lawrence's church. On 
the left of the Compter gateway was the 
church of St. Lawrence, and bevond the 
church were the buildings known as the Hos- 
pital of St. John the Baptist. This hospital 
occupied the ground where the municipal 
buildings now stand, and a piece of it still 
remains behind the large Town Hall. 

Let us pass through the Compter gateway, 
and try to picture the scene. Directly in 
front of us, about one hundred yards away, 
we should behold the majestic west front 
of the Abbey church. This church, like so 
many of the churches of that day, was built 
in the form of a cross. Erom the intersection 
of the arms of the cross rose a square central 
tower, surmounted by a spire and cross. So 
utterly has this splendid church vanished away, 
hardly one stone being left upon another, 
that it is now not easy to believe that if you 
had been able to measure it from the western 
door to the threshold of the lady chapel at 
its eastern end, you would have found that 
the length was 450 feet — that is to say, rather 
longer than the famous Abbey at Westminster. 
On the right hand of the Abbey church (that 
is, on the southern side of it) were numerous 
buildings, nearly all traces of Avhich have 


em Ry- 






i Hosprtum of S* John the Baptist. 

2 Transepts. 

3 Chapels. 

a Vestry &Treasury. 

5 Domus Necessana?(RERE dorter) 

6 Kitchen. 

7 Abbots Garden 


now disappeared. Here were the cloisters, 
or covered arcades, surrounding and looking* 
forth upon a sequestered court. Here too 
was the Abbot's dwelling with its garden ; 
the treasury of the Abbey ; and upon the south 
side of the cloisters was the refectory, or dining 
hall, of the monks. Beyond these buildings, 
where the masses of ivy- clad ruin yet stand, 
were the chapter house, or meeting hall of 
the monks, and their dormitory, or sleeping 
place. Close to the southern boundary, near 
the little stream which, because it ran through 
the Abbey enclosure, obtained the name of the 
holy or hallowed brook, were the stables, bake- 
houses, and mill. 

The Abbey enclosure, as already said, was 
divided into two courts. Men passed from 
the outer court, Avhere the Abbey church stood, 
into the inner court, where stood the Abbot's 
lodging, through the inner gateway ; and it 
is this inner gateway which yet remains, just 
at the end of the modern row of houses called 
Abbot's Walk. Close by the inner gateway 
stood a house for the reception of lepers. In 
the Compter gateway was a prison, and beyond 
the Abbey church was an infirmary for the 
comfort of sick monks. 

These, then, were the chief buildings of 
Reading Abbey. Most of them were finished 


by the year 1193. The Abbey church it- 
self was consecrated by the Archbishop of 
Canterbury, the famous Thomas Becket, in 
1164, in the presence of King Henry II. and 
many bishops and barons. The lady chapel, 
which stood at the east end of the Abbey 
church, was not added until 1314. 

The group of monastic buildings, when 
finished, was one of the most splendid in 
England. All of them were of stone, and 
you can easily imagine how fair they must 
have looked when the sun glanced upon their 
many towers and pinnacles, battlements and 
buttresses, vanes and windows. Peaceful 
meadows bordered the walls of the Abbey on 
its northern and eastern sides, Beyond the 
meadows the reed-fringed Thames flowed on- 
ward to the woods of Sonning. Eastward 
stretched the Abbot's deerpark. Westward 
along the banks of the Kennet were the lowly 
dwellings of the burgesses of Heading. In 
tranquil majesty King Henry's Abbey towered 
OA^er the vale. 

It is certain that the Abbey could accommo- 
date at least 300 persons in addition to the 
pilgrims and wayfarers who were given shelter 
and food in the hospitium, or guest house, 
of St. John. The monks did everything for 
themselves. Here within the limits of the 


Abbey they lived and toiled and studied and 
worshipped and died. They ground their 
own corn and made their own bread. Their 
own Abbey lands supplied them with food and 
fuel. They brewed their own ale ; they made 
their own clothes. Those of them who were 
studious or expert worked in the cloisters at 
their books, or at the more skilled handicrafts, 
such as carving or gilding. For all of them, 
by day and by night, there were at regular 
times the services of the church. It is a 
strange thing to consider that this full and 
ordered life continued in the Abbey without 
a break for more than four hundred years, from 
the days of the first King Henry to the days 
of the last King Henry ; and that then it came 
suddenly and for ever to an end. During all 
these four hundred years you must think of 
the black-robed monks with shaven crowns 
moving about the Abbey on their daily busi- 
ness, and through the streets of Reading 
outside their gates. You must think of the 
lepers and the beggars craving alms at Compter 
gateway ; of the noisy dealers and wayfarers 
munching their dole in the guest house of 
St. John, or busy with their waggons and jmck- 
horses in the yard outside ; of the stream of 
pilgrims wending their way through the outer 
court into the church of the Abbey in order 


to venerate the precious relics which were 
there preserved ; of the stately Abbot, with his 
retinue of servants ; of the tolling of hells ; 
of the pageantry and solemn music ; of the 
worship in the church. 

Such during four centuries was the Ahhev 
of Reading. We cannot douht that its 
presence had much effect upon the town at 
its gates. In the first place, the Ahbot of 
Reading was the master of the town. When 
King Henry I. founded the Abbey he caused 
a charter to be drawn up setting forth the 
rights and privileges of the Abbey. Now 
in this charter it is stated, among other 
things, that the King has given to the Abbey 
" Reading itself," together with important 
rights and powers of executing justice upon 
the people of Reading if they did wrong, 
and of taking toll or taxes from them, and 
of managing in various ways their affairs. 
We shall see presently that the people of 
Reading came very greatly to dislike being 
thus placed under the control of the Abbots. 

Secondly, it is likely enough that the 
establishment of the Abbey caused the town 
of Reading to be drawn, as time went on, 
nearer and nearer towards its gates. It seems 
probable, as Ave have already seen, that the 
earliest Reading lay by St. Mary's church, 


near the ford which crossed the Kennet in 
the line of the present Bridge Street and 
Southampton Street. But then we know that 
the old Gild Hall, or Town Hall, of the bur- 
gesses was much nearer to the site of the 
Abbey. It was situated near Duke Street, 
in or close by a lane still called " Yield- 
hall " (that is, Gild Hall) Lane. Again, we 
find the Market Place of Beading situated 
just outside the main gate of the Abbey. 
Why should this be so ? May we not sup- 
pose that the country people and others 
preferred to buy and sell at this spot because 
of its nearness to the Abbey, and that the 
Abbot himself was glad to have the Market 
Place just outside his doors because he levied 
tolls or taxes upon bargains and sales ? 

Further, the Abbey drew to Beading many 
visitors. Pilgrims came from all parts of 
England, and even from foreign lands, to 
venerate the treasured relics ; traders flocked 
to the Abbot's fairs, which several times a 
year were held in the Forbury, or outer court 
of the Abbey ; kings and bishops and nobles 
and their retinues were often guests of the 
Abbot ; and from time to time there assembled 
at the Abbey councils of the church, and even 
parliaments of the realm. This constant flow 
of visitors and traffic was of benefit to the 


town. It must have helped the traders and 
innkeepers. Even the resources of the Abbey 
could hardly have satisfied all the wants of 
all the visitors who came to Reading. 

Lastly, let us not forget that the Abbey 
must have helped Reading in another way. 
The standards of life in those times were 
often low and hard. Lawlessness and cruelty 
existed then no less than now, and perhaps 
even more then than now. Very few people 
cared at all for the higher aims of life ; and 
therefore something must have been owed 
to the Abbey, because, notwithstanding any 
faults, it afforded protection to those who 
dwelt beneath its shadow, and because it 
held up to them an ideal. It reminded men 
that the noblest life was a life wisely ruled, 
a life consecrated by service to God and man. 
It said and it showed that order was better 
than disorder, work better than sloth, self- 
denial and simplicity of life better than brutal 
self-indulgence. Moreover, the Abbey was 
the home of scholarship. There were then 
no schools in Reading at all. Had it not 
been for the monks, men might have for- 
gotten or never known that there was such 
a thing as learning. We know that at Read- 
ing Abbey there was a wonderful library. 
It contained books, some of them beautifully 


illuminated, on music, mathematics, as- 
tronomy, law, and history. Perhaps the 
oldest piece of English music, a song of joy 
at the approach of summer, was first written 
down hy a Heading monk. We may feel sure 
that however much in some ways the people 
of Reading may have disliked being ruled 
by the masterful Abbots, yet in other ways 
they were none the worse, and indeed were 
much the better, for living in the near 
presence of this wonderful institution, which 
taught men that the highest life was the life 
of piety, scholarship, and labour. 




It was the year 1233. The third Henry was 
King of England. Heading was becoming 
a busy little town, and Adam of Lathbury 
ruled the Abbey as eleventh Abbot. One day 
some new preachers, eager bright-eyed men, 
wearing grey cloaks, besought Abbot Adam 
to be allowed to settle in the town. These 
were the brethren of St. Erancis — the " Grey 

Nearly twenty years before, the good St. 
Erancis of Assisi, in Italy, had formed 
a band of disciples, and sent them forth 
to win souls for Christ. These disciples 
shunned all wealth and ease. They embraced 
poverty and self-denial. They were to have 
neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in their 
purses, nor scrip for their journey, neither 
two coats, nor yet staves. They cared for 
naught save the gospel of Christ. They went 
forth, two and two, to succour the fallen, to 


comfort the miserable, to teach the ignorant, 
to rebuke the sinful, to chasten the proud. 
St. Francis filled their souls with love and 
fire. They came to England in 1224, and 
they passed from town to town, and from 
village to village, preaching in the highways, 
and in market places, and wherever they 
could persuade men to hearken to them. 
Their eager pleading stirred the hearts of 
men as the sound of a trumpet on a hillside 
stirs dwellers in the valley. In 1233 they 
came to Reading, and in Heading they wished 
to stay if the Abbot would give them leave. 

The Abbot perhaps was not best pleased to 
have these fiery missionaries so close to his 
own doors. It was the wont of Abbots to 
love the quiet and ordered ways of life, and 
to love but little the trumpet calls which 
broke in upon their peace. He did not say 
them nay ; neither did he treat them very 
generously. " There is," said he, " a piece 
of waste ground near the King's highway 
leading to Caversham Bridge. This you may 
have, and there you may build a house ; but 
if you disobey the rules which I strictly 
lay upon you, I shall require you to give 
it up and go away." The poor Friars 
humbly accepted this piece of the waste, 
and built their house upon it. But the 


situation proved very uncomfortable. The 
site lay low in the water-meadows, and from 
time to time floods rose and washed over 
it. Often the Friars were driven out of 
house and home ; sometimes they Avere nearly 
drowned, and in the winter, because of the 
deep waters about them, they often could not 
reach the town to get food. So in 1282 the 
Archbishop of Canterbury, Avho had himself 
once been a Friar of St. Francis, j)leaded 
with the Abbot of Reading on behalf of his 
poor brethren. Friars, he said, were men of 
very simple mind ; they were not clever 
builders — indeed, their houses often tumbled 
down ; they sorely needed some one to protect 
them and to advise them. Could not the 
Abbot help them ? 

The Abbot thought it over, and three years 
later he gave the Friars a new piece of land. 
It was nearer to the town than the first piece, 
and on higher ground. Here the Friars were 
safe from floods, and now they began to build 
in earnest. A rich noble gave them fifty-six 
oaks with which to build, and thev seem to 
have received other gifts. About 1311 their 
buildings were completed. Of these buildings 
the chief was the church. It did not pretend 
to rival the glories of the Abbey church, but 
nevertheless it was a beautiful building. The 


style in which it was built was different from 
the style of the church in the Abbey. When 
the Abbey was founded men built in the 
Norman style, of which the great features are 
strength and solidity, and the rounded pillars, 
arches, doorways, and windows. By 1300, 
however, builders had become more skilful, 
and they loved forms that were graceful and 
slender and delicate, rather than forms that 
were massive and plain. They now built 
in a style of which the chief features were 
lightness and grace, and the rich tracery of 
the windows. It was in this style that the 
church of the Grey Friars at Reading was 
built, and, though much smaller than the 
church of the Abbey, we can tell from such 
old parts of it as still remain that it was a 
building of beauty. 

Here, then, the Friars, no longer roaming 
missionaries without home or goods, abode for 
nearly two hundred and fifty years. Later on 
we shall see how their life was cut short. As 
time went on they seem to have obtained 
more land. Behind their church and house 
was a pleasant field with trees and ponds, 
and beyond lay an orchard. Indeed, it may 
be that in Beading, as elsewhere, the Eriars 
strayed from the strict way of life laid down 
for them by St. Francis, their founder, and 


came to lead lives of comfort and ease rather 
than lives of effort and self-denial. But 
of their life in Reading we know little for 
certain. In the end they were harshly turned 
forth upon the streets, and Reading soon 
knew them no more. Some of their buildings 
passed into private hands. Their beautiful 
church suffered strange fortunes. At one 
time it was used as a town hall, at another 
as a kind of workhouse, and later still as 
a prison. It was not until 1863 that it was 
saved from further evil usage, and given back 
after three centuries to its first purpose as 
a house of God. Perhaps no church in 
England has had a stranger story. 



Meanwhile the trade of Reading was growing 
apace. The people were no longer merely 
toilers in the fields. There is an old story that 
in the reign of King Edward I. (1272—1307) 
there nourished at Reading a rich clothier, # 
called Thomas Cole, whose waggons were con- 
tinually going to and fro between Reading 
and London. We cannot altogether believe 
this story, hut it is certain that as early as 
this time the trade in cloth had begun in 
Reading. We know that there was a cloth 
market in Reading as early as 1311, and 
perhaps even before ; and we know also that, 
from this time for at least four centuries, the 
trade in cloth was the mainstay of the 
prosperity of Reading. 

In all times England has been noted for 
its fine sheep pastures, and for the produc- 
tion of great quantities of wool. After the 

* By " clothier " is here meant a maker of cloth. 


Norman Conquest of 1066 the trade in wool 
grew fast. At first the wool used to be packed 
in sacks, and carried from the inland pastures 
down to the ports and shipped over to Flanders. 
There the cunning Flemish weavers made it 
into cloth, and much of this Flemish cloth 
woven from English wool was shipped back 
again to England, and sold to the English 
people. But after a time the English learned 
how to make their wool into cloth for them- 
selves without sending it to Flanders. King 
Edward I. wisely encouraged the English to 
do this, and it is said that he brought over 
Flemish weavers to Bristol in order that his 
English subjects might learn from them the 
best ways of making cloth. The Kings who 
came after Edward followed his example in 
helping on the cloth trade. So at length the 
English ceased to send much wool abroad, but 
kept it nearly all at home and made it into 
cloth themselves. Throughout southern and 
eastern England scores of towns and villages 
were by 1450 busy in making cloth, and were 
growing rich by so doing. Among the towns 
were Beading and. Newbury. 

It is clear that even before 1300 Beading 
was no longer merely a village. The Friars, 
as we have seen, settled in Beading in 1233, 
and it was not their wont to settle in 


villages. Again, in 1295, King Edward I. 
asked each of the chief towns of England 
to send two burgesses to sit in Parliament. 
Among these towns was Reading. About the 
same date we can perceive in Heading the 
rise of the trade in cloth. We know that 
earlier still Reading possessed a Gild Mer- 
chant. It is the Gild Merchant which must 
now be considered. 

The Gild Merchant of Heading is first heard 
of in the year 1253, but it is certain that it 
existed even earlier. In 1253 we find that 
the Gild Merchant of the burgesses of Head- 
ing had been quarrelling with the Abbot of 
Heading. The Abbot took his complaint to 
a court of law, and it is in the records of 
this trial that we hear for the first time of 
the Gild Merchant of Heading. 

A Gild Merchant, first of all, was an 
association of traders. This association had 
two chief objects. The first was to protect 
the traders of a town from the competition 
of those who did not belong to the town 
or to the Gild Merchant. Thus in Heading 
no "foreigner" (that is, outsider, one who 
dwelt outside the town) was allowed to set 
up in the town a shop or stall unless he 
had the permission of the Gild Merchant. 
The second object of the association was to 


make rules for the management of trades 
carried on within the town. 

The Gild Merchant, then, was first of all 
a trading association, and therefore, where- 
ever we hear of a Gild Merchant, as in 
Reading in 1253, we may he sure that there 
was trade going on. Gilds Merchant are not 
heard of in England before the Norman 
Conquest. But one of the results of the 
Norman Conquest was to increase the traffic 
between England and the rest of Europe. 
Partly for that reason English trade began to 
grow rapidly, and during the two centuries 
after the Norman Conquest we hear of Gilds 
Merchant in nearly all the chief trading towns. 

But although the Gild Merchant was first 
of all a trading association, it often happened 
that in course of time it came to be concerned 
with other things, and even more important 
things, than trade. This happened to the 
Gilds because of their wealth and strength. 
In Reading, as in some other toAvns, the Gild 
Merchant was by far the strongest organisa- 
tion in the town.* Gradually the Gild came 
to have more and more to do with the general 
government of the town. In Reading the 
Gild Merchant in the end grew into the 

* That is, apart from the Abbey, which was rather 
distinct from the town than a part of it. 


municipal authority, or Town Council. This 
growth and change came very slowly indeed, 
and it would not he easy to say when the 
old Gild finally disappears and the history 
of the Town Council of Reading hegins. 
The one, little hy little, passes into the other, 
just as the root of a tree passes into the 
trunk. For a lonsr time the head of the Gild is 
spoken of sometimes as the Custos or Warden 
of the Gild, and sometimes as the Mayor. 
After the middle of the sixteenth century 
Mayor of the borough is the only title used. 

Let us speak first of the Custos or Mayor, 
the chief officer of the Gild. Every year 
three burgesses, or members, of the Gild, 
chosen by the rest of the Gild in their Gild 
Hall, proceeded on the feast of St. Michael 
the Archangel to the Compter gate of the 
Abbey. Thence they were led to the great 
hall, where the Abbot would be sitting in 
state to receive them. The Abbot then chose 
one of the three to be the Custos (or Warden) 
of the Gild for the coming year. The duties 
of the Custos were very important. He had 
to preside at the meetings of the Gild, and 
to see that the officers of the Gild did their 
work. He had to speak on behalf of the 
Gild, and to act for it, on public occasions. 
For example, in 1318 the Custos Avent to 


London to see that a burgess of Reading was 
not wrongly taxed. If the King came to 
Reading the Custos might be required to go 
in his best clothes to meet him and to offer 
him gifts. The Custos had an allowance to 
meet the expenses of his office, but the allow- 
ance was not large. In 1302 it was no more 
than twenty shillings. 

It was the Custos or Mayor who acted as 
peacemaker when the burgesses quarrelled 
with one another, as they often did. After 
a meeting of the Gild the rule was for the 
burgesses, two and two together, to escort 
the Mayor through the streets to his own 
doors. Any burgess who threatened to hurt 
him, or who abused him, or who disobeyed 
him, might be turned out of the Gild, or 
fined, or otherwise punished. The Mayor 
wore robes of office, and a hood upon his 
head. It was he who kept the charters and 
the silver plate belonging to the Gild. In 
the fifteenth century he was allowed to have 
a mace (or staff of office) borne before him 
by two sergeants. Sometimes the Mayor 
gave a dinner to the Gild. The first existing 
mention of the office of Custos, Warden, or 
Mayor is in a record of the year 1302. Yet 
there is no doubt that the office existed even 
before that date. 


Besides the Mayor, there were other officers 
of the Gild. First of these were the Cofferers, 
who in a strong chest in the Gild Hall kept 
the moneys of the Gild. It was they who 
collected the rents of the Gild, and kept the 
Gild accounts on parchment rolls. Then 
there was the Clerk of the Gild, avIio wrote 
down in a hook what the Gild did at its 
meetings. Many of the Clerk's hooks are 
still preserved at the Town Hall. In the 
end his office grew into the office of the Town 
Clerk of Heading. Then there were the Con- 
stables, whose duty it was to seize those who 
broke the law and to keep the pillory and 
stocks in good order. Next came the Ward 
Keepers, who were required to see to the 
good order of the streets and to drive stray 
pigs into the pound. Sergeants at Mace are 
first mentioned in 1187, when the King said 
in a new charter that the Mayor might have 
a mace. It was the duty of the Sergeants at 
Mace to ring the common bell to warn the 
Mayor and burgesses of meetings at the Gild 
Hall ; to attend, with the mace, upon the 
Mayor on Sundays and holy days when he 
went to church ; and to keep the Gild Hall 
clean. They also served warrants upon 
law-breakers, and cried proclamations in the 
Market Place. Lastly, there were the officers, 


called Searchers, whose duty it was to see 
that the trades in the town were carried on 
according to the orders of the Gild. 

The Gild Merchant consisted of the chief 
traders in Reading. The number of members 
or " burgesses " who belonged to it varied 
from forty to eighty. When a burgess was 
admitted to the Gild he bad to pay a fee, as 
well as all or part of the cost of a breakfast 
to the Mayor and burgesses held on such 
occasions. We happen to know what the bill 
of fare was at one of these breakfasts in 1497. 
It consisted of " befe, lambe, hennys, chekyns, 
suger, wyne, grese, floure, orrengis, and pow- 
ther." It cost altogether six shillings.* Every 
burgess had also, on admission to the Gild, to 
swear an oath that he would be a true and loyal 
member, and not tell any one its secrets. 

A Gild Hall has already several times been 
mentioned. From what is said in a record of 
the year 1254 we know that a Gild Hall 
existed then, but we are not told where it 
was situated. In 1420 a new Gild Hall was 
built, and it was situated near the George 
Inn and the hallowed brook. It was quite 
a small building. At its western end was a 
barn ; on its southern side was a stable, 
a garden, and a dye house. In 1442, when 
* See note at p. 136. 


the Gild Merchant was very thriving, the 
Hall was much improved. We hear of its 
clock-house and bells to chime the hours, and 
of the pictures of King Henry VI. and King 
Henrv VII. that hung within. It was in the 
Gilcl Hall that the business of the Gild was 
done. It was here that, ever since 1295, the 
two members of Parliament for Reading were 
chosen. Hither on Friday mornings, at the 
summons of their bell, came the burgesses 
in their gowns. Here were held the dinners 
and the breakfasts. Here took place enter- 
tainments before the Gild, as, for instance, 
when the play-actors from one of the villages 
near, such as Henley or Aldermaston, Sonning 
or Wokingham, asked leave to show their 
skill. For hundreds of years the Gild Hall 
was the centre of the trade and business of 
Heading even more than the municipal 
buildings of to-day. In the end, however, 
this old Hall proved to be too small. More- 
over, it stood close to the water's brink, 
just where the women came to wash clothes 
in the river. The noise they made when 
beating their clothes and linen with 
"bateldores " was so great that the burgesses 
in their Hall often could not hear one another 
speak. And so, in 1543, the Mayor and 
burgesses were allowed to have instead of 


their old Hall the chief part of the church of 
the Grey Friars, from which the Friars had 
just heeii driven forth. 

The Gild regulated very strictly the trading 
affairs of Reading. Only those who were 
members of the Gild might trade freely within 
the town, and traders from other j)laces, the 
"foreigners," were sharply watched and 
jealously controlled. They might come to 
the town to trade only during fair time, or 
on fixed occasions, and they had to pay toll 
for any privileges. The Gild, in short, did 
all it could to keep the profits of the town 
trade entirely to itself. Moreover, it passed 
many rules affecting even its own members. 
Thus no barber was allowed to shave any 
but certain privileged persons after nine 
o'clock at night between Easter and Michael- 
mas. All the methods of making cloth were 
strictly regulated with the object of prevent- 
ing the manufacture of cloth of poor quality. 
Much of the business of the Gild was con- 
cerned with matters of this kind. 

Such was the Gild Merchant of Reading 
during the three hundred years from about 
1250 to 1550. It received, during this long 
period, many charters from the King, each 
one adding a little to its liberties and 
privileges. These charters, beautifully written 


and illuminated, are still preserved at the 
Town Hall. At last, in 1542, the burgesses 
received a most important charter, by which 
the Gild Merchant of Reading became recog- 
nised as a corporate body for the management 
of town affairs generally. Henceforth the 
name of Gild, and many of the old ideas 
connected with it, seem to fade away, and we 
hear more and more of the Mayor and Cor- 
poration. Thus the Town Council of Reading 
has a long history stretching away behind it 
into the distant past. We cannot really say 
with sureness when its history begins, so dim 
are its origins, but we can truly say that it 
goes back for more than six hundred and 
fifty years. 

Let us recall how a Mayor of Reading is 
now elected. 

On November 9 th, 1904, the Members of 
the Town Council of the Borough of Reading 
being assembled in the small Town Hall, the 
Deputy Mayor (Mr. Councillor Bull J pro- 
posed " that this Council do now elect Martin 
John Sutton, Esquire, of Henley Bark in the 
County of Oxford, and of Market Place, 
Reading, one of His Majesty's Justices of the 
Beace, and a Burgess of this Borough, to be 
Mayor for the coming year." 

Mr. Councillor Ridley seconded this Resolu- 


Hon. Other Members of the Council having 
supported it, the 'Resolution was put to the vote 
and carried. 

The newly elected Mayor, having put on his 

robes of office, was then escorted to the chair, 

and invested loith the golden chain of office. 

He then took the oath of Mayor, and received 

from the ex-Mayor the mace. 

Such is the way in which the first citizen and 
chief magistrate of the borough of Reading is 
now elected. His office is not only one of 
dignity and power, hut it is very ancient. 
Each new Mayor of Reading succeeds to a 
charge which has been held during hundreds 
of years by the leading men of the town. 
The office of Mayor, as we know it to-day, 
has grown out of the old office of the Custos, 
Warden, or Keeper of the Gild Merchant of 



The Abbot of Reading was a great personage. 
He was a farmer of broad lands. His Abbey 
owned estates in eight shires besides Berk- 
shire. He dealt ont justice in the King's 
name. He sat in Parliament as a peer of the 
realm. He coined money. Erom some taxes 
his goods were free. He corresponded with 
bishops and abbots both in England and 
abroad. He enjoyed a princely revenue. 
He appointed the parish priests of many 
churches. Several country mansions were 
kept up for his use. He was waited upon 
by forty servants. 

So great a man, living in so splendid an 
habitation, and in a town through which 
so many people had occasion to pass when 
travelling about the country, was sure to have 
many visitors. The hospitality of Reading 
Abbey was famous, and during all its long 


history the Abbey was the resort of kings and 
nobles. Several times councils and parlia- 
ments met in its spacious chapter house. 
Indeed, so frequent were these visits, and so 
rich was the entertainment, that there is little 
doubt that they were among the causes why 
the Abbey at one time became heavily in 
debt, and was obliged to borrow money from 
Italian bankers. 

Almost all the kings of England from 
William Rufus to Henry VIII. visited 
Reading Abbey. How many times have their 
cavalcades passed through the Market Place, 
and through Compter gate ! Let us try to 
recall a few of these scenes. 

The builders were still busy with the church 
when a solemn event deepened all men's 
interest in the new Abbey. In 1135 King 
Henry I., the founder of the Abbey, died in 
Normandy. The wish of the King was that 
he might be buried in his own Abbey at 
Reading. His body was therefore embalmed 
and wrapped in bulls' hides. From Normandy 
it was borne by slow stages to Reading, and 
there, before the high altar of his still un- 
finished church, it was buried. Adeliza, his 
widow, gave money to the Abbey in order 
that a lamp might for ever be kept burning 


before the King's tomb. Thus Reading 
became the burial-place of a great King. 


In 1163 a notable duel took place at Reading. 
Some years before, when King Henry II. was 
fighting the Welsh, part of his army fell into a 
panic because, it was said, Henry of Essex, the 
King's standard-bearer, dropped the standard 
and cried out falsely that the King had been 
slain. If he did this, it was a coAvard's act ; 
and Robert of Montfort, his kinsman, declared 
that he did do it, and was both coward and 
traitor. Essex denied these charges, so the 
King said that they must fight it out and 
settle who was right by single combat, 
And the King directed that the fight should 
take place at Reading, on the island in the 
river Thames below Gaversham Bridge. 

Here, then, one day in April, 1163, a great 
concourse of people assembled. The King 
himself was there, and with him many of his 
nobles. Essex and Montfort were ferried 
over to the island, and were bidden to fight 
out their quarrel. Let God judge between 
them ! After a furious fight, during which 
Robert of Montfort " thundered on him man- 
fully with hard and frequent strokes," Henry 
of Essex fell, wounded, as was thought, to 
death. The King turned to the monks of 


Reading, and bade them carry away the body 
of the traitor and bury it. But the monks 
found that Henry of Essex was not dead. 
Under their care he at length recovered from 
his wounds. Yet because he was now held to 
be a coward and a traitor to the King his 
estates were taken from him. Nor could he 
bear the gaze of men for shame. And so 
he staved on with the kindlv monks, and 
became a monk himself. Thus he who had 
been the standard-bearer of Henry Plantagenet 
passed from the eyes of the world, and ended 
his life a forgotten monk within the walls 
of Reading Abbey. In after days Henry of 
Essex used to say that he had been defeated 
because, at the height of the combat, the 
figures of St. Edmund the Martyr, and of a 
certain knight, both of whom he had formerly 
wronged, appeared to frown upon him in a 
terrifying manner " on the border of the land 
and the water." 

Only a year after this incident another 
gathering took place at Reading. The occasion 
was the hallowing or consecration of the 
Abbey church by the Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, Thomas Becket. Once more King 
Henry II. journeyed to Reading, and with 
him a throng of warlike nobles. Because of 


the presence of the Archbishop, and because 
of the religious ceremony to be held, there 
came no fewer than ten bishops as well. 
Surely on that April Sunday, in 1164, there 
was a scene at Heading long to be remembered. 
With what eagerness must the visitors have 
beheld the new church in all the purity of 
its white stone ; the processions of bishops, 
priests, and monks ; the gifts offered to 
the church ; the solemn hallowing by the 

But chiefly men's eyes sought out Henry, 
the King, and Thomas, the Archbishop. Once 
these two had been as David and Jonathan. 
Alike in work and in pleasure, the son of 
Geoffrey of Anjou and the son of the Cheap - 
side merchant had been as brothers together. 
Henry had not worn his crown long before 
he raised the witty and clever clerk, with 
pale dark features and bright eyes, to be his 
Chancellor ; and now he had raised him higher 
still, to the Primacy of England. Yet all 
men knew that things were now not well with 
Henrv and Thomas,- — that their old comrade- 
ship had turned to distrust and hate. Henry's 
stormy temper and masterful will were 
matched by Becket's proud resistance. On 
that day at Beading none indeed could foresee 
that the direful ending of this quarrel would 


be an Archbishop cruelly murdered and a 
King shamed ; but the quarrel of two such 
antagonists must have set many talking and 
watching. Not one, save Becket alone, in all 
that throng of the great and powerful but 
stood in awe of the King. There sat Henry, 
twitching the short cape at which the long- 
robed courtiers mocked, and fidgetting with 
his coarse, restless hands. Truly he was no 
darling for silken bowers. Wind and rain 
and sun, and a thousand journeyings by land 
and sea, had roughened his cheeks ; much 
riding to and fro through his far- stretching 
dominions had bowed his legs ; his bullet 
head bristled with red hair ; his frame was 
thick-set and burly ; his eyes glowed with 
dangerous fires. Good he was not; gentle 
and gracious he was not ; yet such a man has 
his place in the world, and mighty indeed 
was this man's work. He broke men and 
kingdoms to his own far purposes ; and with 
blow upon blow, and lesson upon lesson, he 
taught undisciplined England the stern truth 
that only by the path of law and order could 
she attain to greatness. For mastery is won 
through discipline and obedience. 

* # * * * 

In 1185 Henry II. was again at Reading 
Abbey. He came to hear the petition of 


Heraclius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. You 
will remember that the Christian peoples of 
Europe were at this time very eager to pre- 
vent the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem, and 
indeed the holy land itself, from falling into 
the hands of those who were the enemies of 
the Christian faith. Heraclius came to Read- 
ing in order to beg the King to interest 
himself in the Third Crusade, which was then 
going forward. Heraclius spoke long and 
eloquently, and he ended his appeal by 
placing in the King's hands the keys of the 
holy sepulchre and the holy city. It is 
said that he moved the King and all who 
heard him to tears. But Henry was a cautious 
as well as a fiery ruler. The tears might 
run down his cheeks, but they did not mean 
that he would agree to do anything rash or 
foolish. He was not at all eager to spend his 
money and strength in this costly and perilous 
enterprise. At last he gave this answer. If, 
said he, he were to go, as he was asked, to 
Jerusalem, it would, of course, mean that he 
must leave England, and, moreover, leave it 
exposed to the attacks of its hostile neigh- 
bours. Now he felt sure, he continued, that 
his own kingdom of England was as pleasing 
to God and as devout as Jerusalem itself. 
It could not, therefore, be pleasing to God for 


him to abandon England to ruin even for the 
sake of Jerusalem, and so he could not consent 
to the request of the Patriarch. 

Heraclius, therefore, went away disap- 
pointed. Two years later Jerusalem fell into 
the hands of Saladin, the leader of the 

# * * * * 

In 1219 died the greatest man in the realm. 
This was William Marshal, Earl of Pem- 
broke, the wise and strong regent who ruled 
England during the first three years of the 
boy-King, Henry III. William Marshal had 
a castle at Caversham, and it was there that 
he died. His body was borne by the monks 
of Reading Abbey from the castle to the 
Abbey church, and a solemn service was held 
in its honour. Thence the body was carried 
to London for burial. It may have been 
William Marshal who built the first bridge 
at Caversham. 

* # * -;'«»• # 

In 1227 King Henry III., then a very 
young man, came to Reading to spend his 
Christmas. Christmas was one of the three 
occasions, the other tAvo being Easter and 
Pentecost, when the King of England used 
to wear his crown in public and show himself 
to the people. Henry HI- in 1227 chose to 


do this at Reading. We are told that the 
Abbey was the scene of great festivities in 
his honour. This Henry was very fond of 
splendid show. He was, indeed, the first King 
of England after the Norman Conquest who 

was at all particular about his clothes. 

* * # * * 

In 1346 Edward III., the warlike King 
whose gallant archers and men-at-arms won 
the renowned victories of Crecy and Poictiers, 
visited Heading. Edward III. was fond of 
the pageants of chivalry and above all of 
tournaments, or joustings. A tournament 
was a combat between two knights, or parties 
of knights, in armour. They fought some- 
times on horseback and sometimes on foot. 
The fighting took place in what were 
called lists. A large space was marked 
out on a level meadow, and tents and 
pavilions were erected around it for the 
spectators. The knights on horseback charged 
one another with levelled lances, riding at 
full speed, and meeting in the midst of the 
lists with a shock. Courtiers and ladies were 
among the spectators, and the knights were 
eager to win their applause. The King 
watched the tournament from a high seat 
or throne, and when he pleased he could 
stop the fight by throwing down his staff. 


These tournaments were very dangerous, and 

men were often killed in them. Sir Walter 

Scott has finely described a tournament for 

us in his romance of Ivanhoe. 

In such chivalrous sports Edward passed 

his time at Reading in 1346. Before he went 

away he borrowed some money from the 

Abbey in order to carry on the war with 

France. It is interesting to remember that 

immediately after he left Reading he crossed 

over to France and won the great battle of 

Crecy. Some years later King Edward III. 

came to Heading again in order to be present 

at the marriage of his son, John of Gaunt. 

The marriage took place in the Abbey church. 

Again there was a splendid pageant and more 

tournaments. We read that the King, and 

his four sons, and nineteen knights entered 

the lists, and that the tournaments lasted for 

two weeks. 

* # # * # 

Perhaps the most famous incidents in the 
history of the Abbey were the councils and 
parliaments held there from time to time. 
On several occasions councils of bishops and 
abbots were held at Reading. Sometimes the 
King would call his chief nobles to Reading, 
and take counsel with them. Once, in 1229, 
the courts of law, usually held at West- 


minster, were held at Heading. Above all, 
seven times during the fifteenth century the 
Parliament of England assembled at Reading, 
and held its session in one of the halls of the 
Abbey, either in the refectory or in the 
chapter house. We read that "in a certain 
apartment within the Abbey prepared for the 
purpose, the King being seated on a throne, 
the three estates were in full Parliament 
assembled." Nothing shows us more clearly 
the national importance of the Abbey, the 
splendid accommodation of its buildings, and 
the convenient and central situation of 
Heading, than this fact that Parliament itself 
should so often have been summoned to sit 
at Reading. 

* # # # # 

These, then, are a few of the famous scenes 
and incidents in the life of the Abbey. There 
are many others that have been recorded, 
and probably more that have been forgotten. 
For more than four hundred years the town 
of Reading was known and honoured, not 
only throughout England but throughout 
Christendom, because of its Abbey ; and there 
can be no doubt that the presence of the 
Abbey was one of the chief causes that the 
town of Reading during this period attained 
prosperity and importance. 



When King Henry I. founded the Abbey he 
gave to the Abbey " Reading itself." He 
also gave the Abbot power over the people of 
Reading. In many ways the Abbot was 
master of the town. This did not prove 
pleasing to the townsmen. A stubborn quarrel 
arose between them and the Abbots. This 
quarrel we must now consider. 

In the vear 1253 the " men of Reading " 
were called before the King's judges. The 
men of Reading, said the Abbot, had been 
behaving badly. With arms in their hands 
they had lain in wait by day and by night for 
his servants, and had pounced out upon them 
and beaten them. This was bad, but this 
was not all. The burgesses were going about 
saying that they were not so much in the 
Abbot's power as he supposed, and that they 
could make their words good in a court of law. 

How the men of Reading excused themselves 


for beating the Abbot's servants we do not 
know. But we know that they tried to prove 
to the judges that their Gild was older than 
the Abbey ; and that the Abbot had been 
trampling upon its ancient rights. But, said 
the judges, the men of Blading could not 
make their words good. They could show no 
charters or legal writings to prove what they 
said. Indeed, if they and their Gild had any 
rights at all they owed them to the kindness 
of the Abbot. So the men of Beading were 
sent about their business, and the King 
despatched a letter to the Sheriff of Berkshire 
telling him to see that they behaved them- 
selves better in future. 

The burgesses, therefore, got the worst of 
it. They went home feeling that they would 
always get the worst of it in these quarrels, 
unless their Gild had a charter from the King. 
Very soon they went to the King, most likely 
with handsome gifts in their hands, and they 
persuaded him to give them a charter of 
privileges. Armed with this, they went to 
the Abbot ; and they made an agreement 
with the Abbot which the King's judges 
accepted as fair and wise. Thus cleverly the 
burgesses regained lost ground. 

This agreement of 1254 first of all tells 
how the burgesses had complained that the 


Abbot had robbed them of their Gild Hall ; 
that he had shifted the town market from its 
old place ; and that he had made demands 
upon them which he had no right to make. 
Next it tells us what the Abbot was willing 
to do to heal these grievances. He would 
agree to restore the market to its old place ; 
he would yield up the Gild Hall ; and the 
burgesses might have their Gild for evermore. 
Lastly, the burgesses agreed that every year, 
on the feast of St. Michael, the Abbot should 
receive from them a noble (6s. 8d.) as rent 
for a certain field. Every year he should 
choose one of the burgesses to act as Warden, 
or Custos, of the Gild. Whenever a new 
burgess was admitted to the Gild he should 
pay a fee of four shillings to the Abbot. 
Every year, on the feast of St. Peter ad 
Yincula (August 1st), every burgess of the 
Gild should pay five pennies to the Abbot 
as the cost of licence to buy and sell in 
Reading. Then come some other rules securing 
to the Abbot his powers of justice over 
Reading and other privileges. The agree- 
ment was known as the Final and Endly 
Concord, because it was hoped that it would 
settle once and and for all the quarrels 
of Abbot and Gild. But it did no such 


For nearly three hundred years, from the 
agreement of 1254 to the fall of the Abbey in 
1539, the Gild and the Abbots were hardly 
ever at peace. Sometimes they wrangled 
about the appointment of Constables ; at 
other times about the sum each ought to pay 
towards the King's taxes ; at other times 
about the profits of a slaughter-house, or the 
use of a mace, or the appointment of the 
Mayor. The particular dispute mattered 
little. The point all the time was, who should 
be master of Reading. 

In the fifteenth century Reading became 
far richer than it had ever been before. This 
was the age when the cloth trade was growing 
so fast. This wealth put new heart into 
the burgesses and they grew much bolder. 
Year after year disputing went on. One of 
the Abbots dared to say that the Gild was 
just a sort of casual club, and that it had no 
right to hold property at all. The burgesses 
fired up at this, and replied with might and 
main. They appointed committees to prepare 
their case and to meet the Abbot and his 
lawyers. They ransacked their ancient 
chests in the Gild Hall for documents which 
should prove how old and worthy a body 
their Gild was. They went riding to Canter- 
bury and to London about this business. 



They paid money to famous lawyers so that 
nothing might he lacking to secure them 
the victory. They got a fund of money 
together to pay for a new charter from the 
King. Many a secret conference about these 
things was held in the old Gild Hall. 

In 1458 the burgesses were in such good 
heart that they ventured a daring stroke. 
They paid Richard the goldsmith the sum of 
4iS. 4id. for a mace. This mace was to make 
plain to all beholders the honour and dignity 
of the Mayor and of the Gild. It was to be 
carried in a stately way before the Mayor, 
and it was to lie in front of him at meetings 
in the Gild Hall. Now a mace, which, like 
the King's sceptre, is in its origin nothing 
more than a staff or stick, has always been 
regarded as a symbol of power and authority. 
It was not likely, therefore, that the Abbot 
of Heading would be at all pleased to see the 
Mayor going about with a mace. He at once 
wrote an angry letter to the King; and the 
King listened to what the Abbot said, and 
sent a letter forbidding the Mayor to use a 
mace. For the next thirty years, therefore, 
the burgesses had to be content to do without 
a mace, and to use instead two tipped staves. 
These staves, moreover, were to be carried, 
not by their own sergeants -at-mace, but by 


servants of the Abbot. This was a stinging 
humiliation, and the burgesses loved the Abbot 
less than ever. 

At last, however, in 1487, the Gild secured 
a new charter. Henry VII. was now King, 
and was more favourable to the burgesses. 
They were now allowed to have a mace, and 
the King also conferred upon them even more 
valuable privileges. Yet the disputings Avith 
the Abbot continued. So sharp became the 
quarrel that, in 1492, the Abbot refused to 
appoint a Mayor. For seven years he hardened 
his heart against the burgesses. What were 
they to do now ? They could not carry on 
their business without a Mayor. The Mayor 
was to the Gild what the keystone is to the 
arch. Without a Mayor all their affairs must 
be in confusion. At length they decided to 
appoint a Mayor themselves, and they solemnly 
undertook to render to the Master of the Gild, 
thus appointed, the same obedience and loyalty 
that they had been accustomed to render to 
the Mayor, chosen in the old way by the 
Abbot. So, though the Abbot remained 
stubborn for seven years, things went on 
otherwise much as before. Finally, in 1507, 
it was agreed that this old, weary dispute, 
which for three centuries had been now 
smouldering and now blazing, should be 


referred to two of the King's judges for settle- 
ment. Their settlement took the form of a 

By this Decree of 1507 the Ahhot secured 
most of the rights which he had ever held 
over the Gild Merchant of Reading. He was 
still, to a very great extent, to he master of 
the town, although Heading was now a much 
more important town than in the old days, 
and although the King had repeatedly given, 
by charter, rights and privileges to the Gild 
Merchant. We cannot suppose that the Gild 
Merchant, Avhich had been fighting this battle 
so stubbornly for more than three centuries, 
would have been likely to accept for long a 
settlement which fastened upon the burgesses 
so many of their old fetters. Eut only a few 
years after the Decree of 1507 the Abbey of 
Reading came suddenly to an end. When we 
hear the story of this ending we shall see that 
there was no great protest made by the people 
of Reading on behalf of the Abbey. We can- 
not doubt that when the people remembered 
this long quarrel with the Abbey, they were 
not particularly sorry to think that in future 
there would be no Abbey to trouble them, 
however sorry they might be for the fate of 
the last Abbot. 

In 1542 the burgesses of Reading won from 


King Henry VIII. a most important charter, 
which was the beginning of a new chapter in 
the town history. After this time the Gild 
Merchant of Reading seems to vanish away, 
and to be transformed into the new and power- 
ful Corporation of Reading, recognised by the 
charter of 1542. The King also gave to the 
burgesses a new Gild Hall. He granted them 
the sole right of electing their Mayor, and 
he ordered that the Mayor of Reading should 
have the authority of a justice of the peace — 
that is, of a magistrate. 

So ended the long wrangle between the 
Abbey of Reading and the Gild Merchant of 
the burgesses. It all seems very far away 
now, and the matters in dispute have little 
interest for most people in these days. Yet 
let us be mindful how ancient a body the 
Corporation of Reading is — how hard it had 
to fight for its first liberties, and even for 
leave to exist at all. 



Hard by the Compter gate stood the church 
of St. Lawrence. The church formed part of 
the Abbey boundary, and if you have seen 
how the church of St. Margaret, at West- 
minster, seems to nestle beneath the shadow 
of the towering Abbey by its side, you will have 
some notion how r the church of St. Lawrence 
used to look before the Abbey of Reading was 

Between 1400 and 1540 the parishioners of 
St. Lawrence did all they could to improve 
their church and to make it beautiful. They 
rebuilt much of it. In 1458 the tower took 
the form it still has, and about this time the 
number of bells was increased from three to 
five. " Harry," the biggest bell, weighed 
thirty-six hundredweight, and was given by 
a rich clothier. New organs, new windows, 
new seats, a new font, a new roof, and a new 
clock were also provided. The old clock was 
a curious one ; it had a Jack, or figure of a 


man, which sounded the hours by striking a 
bell with a hammer. Much gilding and 
painting was done, and the churchyard was 
enlarged. The cost of these works was borne 
by the people of the parish. Lists of their 
gifts, many of them the small gifts of poor 
people, still remain. The larger gifts usually 
came from the wealthier clothiers. 

English churches have changed so much 
in appearance, and in the purposes which they 
serve, since those days, that it is not easy to 
recall what this fine old church of St. Lawrence 
was then like, and what it meant in the life of 
the people. The walls within were rich with 
paintings and tapestries depicting scenes from 
the Bible and the story of Christianity. The 
columns and arches which supported the roof 
were brightly coloured, and the timbers of 
the roof shone with paint and gold. As many 
as twelve altars stood about the church in 
honour of different saints. One of these was 
the altar of St. Blaise, patron saint of wool 
merchants, then so numerous in Heading. 
Another was the altar of St. Clement, patron 
saint of smiths ; his pincers, hatchet, and 
sword were represented. Then there was an 
image of St. George, patron saint of England, 
armed with sword and dagger, and bestriding 
a steed coated with horse-skin. Upon the floor 


of the church gleamed figured and lettered 
hrasses in memory of the dead. In all parts 
of the church the brightness of colour and 
of gold caught the eye. The windows were of 
painted glass, and the church was divided 
into two parts by a carved screen and the 
rood loft. In the vestry was kept securely in 
chests a rich treasure of silver plate, hooks, 
banners, and vestments. 

The people of those days delighted in shows 
and pageantry, and in their opinion the parish 
church was the place for these things. Perhaps 
we should remember that there were then no 
theatres, concerts, lectures, clubs, or libraries. 
It was to the church that men went, not only 
to worship and to be serious, but to make 
merry and to rejoice in splendid pageants. 
There was hardly a week in the year without 
its feast or ceremony in the parish church. 

These bygone ceremonies and customs can- 
not all be described, but a little may be said 
about a few of them. Easter Monday and 
Easter Tuesday were called " Hock Tide." On 
Monday men went through the streets carrying 
a rope, with which they entangled any one 
who met them ; and these captives were 
not released until they had paid the men 
money. On Tuesday, women took the rope, 
and they always managed to gain more money 


than the men. The profits of Hock Tide were 
devoted to the church. Soon after Easter 
came May Day, when great feastings were 
held. It was the custom to perform a play. 
One of these plays was called the May Play 
or Robin Hood, and another was called the 
King Play. The first was a representation of 
the story of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar 
Tuck, and Little John. The second was an 
acting of the story of the Wise Men from the 
East, the three kings who, according to an old 
legend, were said to have been buried at 
Cologne. The May Day merrymakings began 
early. At daybreak " young folks and 
maidens," some carrying banners, went forth 
to the woods to cut down a "summer pole." 
This pole they brought home in triumph, and 
set it up in the Market Place, or at the door 
of the church. Stands were erected at the 
church porch for the older spectators, who 
wore ribands and badges. Minstrels played 
harps and other instruments, and morris 
dancers in coats of painted buckram, hung 
with jingling bells, danced to the merry music. 
Then came the plays. Later in the day a 
feast was held in the church. 

On Corpus Christi Day — the Thursday after 
Trinity Sunday — the bells rang a peal, and a 
procession with banners went about the streets. 


A third play was then performed. On this 
occasion a stage was erected in the Forbury, 
and decked with green boughs. Among the 
characters in the play were usually Adam and 
Eve. The lights for this play were provided 
by the tailors and shoemakers of the parish. 
Sometimes, as at Whitsuntide, gatherings 
called church ales were held. The church 
was well cleaned, plenty of pasties and other 
food was prepared, a musician was hired, and 
then the parishioners assembled inside the 
church and feasted together. Profits arising 
from these gatherings were handed to the 
churchwardens . 

Many old ceremonies and customs were 
then observed which have since been abolished 
or forgotten. For instance, the bells of the 
church had godfathers and godmothers. These 
customs had grown up in the course of ages, 
and, though some of them may now seem 
superstitious and wrong, yet the people of 
those days liked them and put faith in them. 
Prosperous parishioners gave freely of their 
wealth in order to add to the splendour of the 
church and its services, or to its furniture. 
For example, one gave to the church a ship of 
silver and two silver candlesticks. Another 
srave monev for a bell. Another °'ave two 
service books with covers of carved and gilded 


silver. A builder gave the church a ladder. 
Eew churches in England were richer in 
treasure. It was in this way that the church 
encouraged skilled handicrafts. The churches 
of Reading employed builders, bell-founders, 
tapestry weavers, embroiderers, mural painters, 
carvers in wood, stone, and metal, and painters 
on glass. The carving in St. Lawrence's 
church was the work of a Reading carver. 
The stained sdass in the chancel was the work 
of a Heading man. The wall painting of St. 
Christopher, and the gilding in the church, 
and many other beautiful things were exe- 
cuted by Reading craftsmen. The bells made 
at Reading were noted throughout this part 
of England. In Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and 
Buckinghamshire, and even in districts more 
remote, the bells of churches were often 
procured from the foundries at Reading. 



In 1453 Constantinople, so long the capital 
city of the Eastern Empire, was captured by 
the Turks. The Turks were ruthless bar- 
barians, and the Greek scholars who had lived 
in Constantinople now fled from the city. 
They fled westward, and chiefly to the cities 
of Italy, for so many ages the home of 
scholarship and the nobler arts. They brought 
with them much learning and knowledge, 
and many books which were new to western 
Europe. Erom Italy this new knowledge 
gradually passed to countries further west 
and north, and at length to England. So 
began the great movement called the Revival 
of Learning. It stirred the nations as the 
wind stirs the leaves and branches of a forest. 
Life of the mind came where there had been 
death, and energy where there had been stag- 
nation. The invention of the printing press 
carried the new knowledge far and wide, and 
with this new movement, the Revival of 



Learning, we seem to enter upon a new age 
in the world's history. We leave what is 
often called the Middle Age, and enter upon 
the Modern Age, to which we ourselves 

We should not expect to see many signs of 
the beginning of such a movement in so small 
a town as Reading ; but there happen to 
be two such signs, both of them of interest. 
We find that one of the exiled scholars of 
the East took refuge in Reading Abbey, 
and was living there in 1499. He bore a 
Greek name, Serbopoulos, and he seems to 
have spent his time in the Abbey copying 
Greek manuscripts and writing Greek books. 
The other sign in Reading of the Revival of 
Learning is the founding of the Eree School, 
sometimes called the Grammar School, and 
now known as Reading School. 

One day in 1486 King Henry VII. was 
passing through Reading. He happened to 
notice the old Hospital of St. John, which 
stood upon the site of the present municipal 
buildings, and he noticed that this Hospital 
seemed deserted. Upon inquiry he was told 
that one of the Abbots had closed the Hospital 
some years before. The Abbot had told his 
neighbours that he thought of making this 
old house into a free school. This was a 


capital idea, but unfortunately all that the 
Abbot had done so far had been to use the 
income of the Hospital for his own purposes. 
King Henry now urged the Abbot to establish 
the school without further delay, and he 
promised himself to contribute £10 a year out 
of his own property at Reading towards its 
support. At the same time, a rich servant 
of the Abbey offered to give the sum of two 
hundred marks for the establishment of the 
school. So the school was started. In 1560 
Queen Elizabeth handed over to the Corpora- 
tion the Crown property in Heading, and she 
also gave them the right of aj^pointing the 
master of the school, provided that they paid 
his yearly salary of £10. In the charter 
which she granted to the town in that year 
it is stated that the purpose of the school is 
" to educate the boys of the inhabitants of the 
borough, and others, in literature." 

It would seem that the school was first 
established in the old guest hall of St. John's 
Hospital. About 1578 the upper part of this 
hall was made into a Town Hall, and the 
school had to be content with the lower 
portion. Except for an interval during the 
siege of Reading in 1643, when the school- 
house was used as a magazine for arms, the 
school stayed in this ancient building until it 


was pulled down in 1786. In this old school- 
room was a picture of King Henry VII., who 
had so large a share in its foundation ; and 
there was a collection of books of which, 
according to old fashion, the most valuable 
were fastened to the shelves by chains. 

The school was intended, as we have seen, 
chiefly for the boys of the burgesses of 
Reading. It Avas usually called the Free 
School, and for two hundred years the 
schooling was either free or the fees did not 
exceed more than about two shillings and 
sixpence a quarter. Small as it was, the 
School produced not a few noted men. 
Thomas White, son of a Heading clothier, 
was one of these. He became Lord Mayor 
of London, and was knighted by Queen Mary 
for his services in putting down a dangerous 
rebellion. At Oxford he is honoured as the 
founder of St. John's College. He provided 
two scholarships at this college to be held by 
boys from his old school at Heading. Another 
famous man who received his education at 
the Free School was William Laud, also the 
son of a Reading clothier. William Laud 
rose to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Among 
other noted Free School boys were John 
Blagrave, well known for his books on mathe- 
matics ; and Thomas Turner and William 


Creed, both sons of Reading burgesses. Turner 
became Dean of Canterbury, and his son was 
one of the famous seven bishops who pro- 
tested against the misgovernment of King 
James II. in 1688; Creed became King's 
Professor of Divinity in the University of 
Oxford. By the seventeenth century the 
school had a very good name. " Divers good 
scholars have been bred there," wrote one of 
the secretaries of state under King Charles I.; 
"very able men," added Archbishop Laud, 
"to do God, the King, and the Church 

Let us see how in these early days a scholar 
was chosen to receive one of Sir Thomas 
White's scholarships to be held at St. John's 
College, Oxford. When one of the scholar- 
ships fell vacant it was the duty of the Presi- 
dent of the College, within forty days, to write 
to the Mayor and aldermen of Reading. The 
Mayor and aldermen had then to choose a boy 
"fit to undertake the study of logic " in the 
university of Oxford. For example, in 1610, 
members of the Town Council, accompanied 
by the vicar of St. Lawrence's church and 
the schoolmaster, and " others intelligent and 
judicious," went into the Free School to choose 
the fittest scholar. On this occasion Thomas 
Turner proved to be the best boy, and there- 


fore his name was sent up to St. John's 
College. As we have already heard, this 
Thomas Turner became a distinguished 

The Corporation took a deep interest in their 
school. Often they helped poor scholars to 
proceed from it to the University, or sent them 
timely presents of money. For example, one 
scholar at Oxford, born of poor parents in 
Reading, received £3 to enable him to take 
his degree of bachelor of arts, and also to buy 
a new suit of clothes in which to attend the 
public ceremony at which the degrees were 



At last the time came when the end of the 
Abbey was at hand. The overthrow of Reading 
Abbey was part of one of the greatest changes 
or revolutions that have ever happened in 
England. It belongs to the religious upheavals 
which together make up what we call the 
Protestant Reformation. Between 1520 and 
1540, during the reign of King Henry VIII .> 
all the abbeys and monasteries in England 
were abolished. The greater abbeys were 
the last to fall. Reading Abbey survived 
until 1539. 

If you ask why the monasteries, which for 
centuries had lived their life in peace, were 
now swept away it is not easy to answer in 
a few words. And whatever answer we make, 
some people would be sure not to agree with 
it. On the whole it seems true to say that 
the chief reasons were these two. Eirst, the 
monasteries were no longer so useful or 


deserving of admiration as they had heen. 
Secondly, they were very rich, and Henry 
VIII. not only had a grudge against them, 
but also coveted their riches. So also did 
many of his courtiers, who hoped that if 
their vast estates were taken from the monks, 
they themselves would have a share in the 

Let us consider these two reasons a little 

In an earlier chapter it was said that the 
monks did a noble work for England in pre- 
serving and upholding learning, and also in 
bringing waste land into cultivation. There 
can be no doubt that such services were in 
early times a precious boon to England. But 
times had now changed. A new England was 
arising, and to this new England, for worse or 
better, monasteries and monks did not seem 
so needful. Take the case of learning. In 
the fifteenth century the printing press was 
invented, and thus books became much cheaper 
and more plentiful. Again, Oxford and Cam- 
bridge had now become the great seats of 
learning, and new schools were also arising. 
The monasteries were no longer the only 
homes of learning, and therefore they no 
longer served the cause of knowledge and 
scholarship so greatly. Again, most of their 


great work in reclaiming waste lands had 
been clone. Moreover, we mnst bear in mind 
that in the fifteenth century a spirit of worlclli- 
ness became far too prevalent among the 
clergy, whether priests or monks. The great 
movement which we call the Reformation of 
religion was a protest against this loss of high 
standards, as Avell as against practices and 
teaching which many had now come to dislike 
as superstitious and wrong. 

As for King Henry VIII., he had a quarrel 
of his own with the Pope of Rome, at that 
time revered by almost all as the head of 
Christendom. You will remember that Henry 
defied the Pope in marrying Anne Boleyn. 
The Pope replied by doing everything he could 
to punish Henry, and so a fierce quarrel arose 
between them. One result of this was that 
Henry was eager to attack all those who in 
this quarrel sided with the Pope against him- 
self. Among such persons were the monks, 
and the wrathful King was quick to see what 
a terrible blow he could deal against the 
Pope, and those who sided with the Pope, if 
he were to destroy the monasteries in England. 
And the King and Thomas Cromwell, his 
crafty minister, also saw what enormous 
wealth could be put into the royal pockets, 
and into the pockets of the King's friends, if 


the lands and goods of the monks were seized. 
It so happened, as you will remember, that 
Henry VIII. was able to do almost anything 
he liked. He was a masterful and cunning 
ruler, and men feared his savage temper. In 
his times Parliament, which so often before 
and after the days of Henry controlled or 
checked the King, was very weak and servile. 
And so the blows fell one after another upon 
the monasteries. First in 1523, then in 1536, 
and then again in 1539, the King was able to 
secure the consent of Parliament to his attacks 
upon the monasteries. Altogether there were 
between six hundred and seven hundred of 
them, containing about eight thousand monks 
and nuns. They were immensely rich, and 
the principal landlords. It is not easy for 
people living now to understand how powerful 
the monasteries were. A single abbey, for 
example, sent 1,200 men to fight against the 
Scots at Plodden Eield. At that date there 
were only eighty-four members of the House 
of Lords, and of these, twenty-six were abbots 
of monasteries. In every shire the magnifi- 
cent buildings of the monks were conspicuous. 
So powerful were the monasteries, that the 
King dared not attack them without some 
kind of proof that their affairs were badly 
conducted. He therefore sent out commis- 


sloners, who visited the abbeys and monasteries 
and reported to Thomas Cromwell what they 
professed to have seen and heard. These men 
were liars, and few of the things they said are 
to be believed. There is, indeed, no doubt 
that some monasteries were badly managed, 
and that some of the monks were corrupt and 
idle ; but we now know that most of the 
charges of this kind made against the monas- 
teries were either untrue or much exaggerated. 
In the case of Reading Abbey it so happened 
that the commissioners reported nothing evil. 
If we may believe what they said of it, the 
state of the Abbey was neither very bad nor 
very good. That, however, did not save the 
Abbey from destruction. In the autumn of 
the year 1538 the King's commissioners were 
busy in Reading making lists of the treasures 
belonging to the Abbey and locking up the 
most precious. In 1539 Parliament declared 
I hat if the head of a monastery should be 
j)ronounced guilty of treason, his monastery 
and its property should be handed over to the 
Crown. A few months later the last of the 
great abbeys, including Reading, thus fell 
victims to the King. The monks of Reading 
were turned out upon the streets. Greedy 
courtiers begged Thomas Cromwell to give 
them a share of the spoil. One courtier 


sought to win his favour by sending him a 
diamond ring. At Christmas, 1539, the solemn 
Abbey was desolate and empty, except for 
plunderers who were busy stripping it bare. 
Upon a gibbet at Compter gate hung the 
body of the last Abbot in chains. Sad indeed 
was the end of the Abbey which the first King 
Henry had loved so well. About the same 
time the Grey Eriars were turned out of the 
Eriary. The people of Reading raised no 
protest against these violent changes. Indeed, 
some of them stole things from the empty 
Eriary, even the clappers from the bells. 

However much we may feel that the time 
had come when a great reform of the monas- 
teries was necessarv, and even if we feel that 
it had become necessary to end them alto- 
gether, we cannot help also feeling disgust 
and indignation at the lies and cruelty, greed 
and wrong, which disgraced the measures 
taken against them by Henry and Cromwell. 



Hugh Cook Farringdon, thirty-first and 
last Abbot of Reading, is said to have been 
the son of poor parents. He was appointed 
Abbot in 1520. He himself tells us that he 
was not a learned man, and though he lived 
in times when the minds of most men were 
deeply stirred by the inrush of new knowledge 
he seems to have cared but little for such 
matters. He liked to live quietly and to 
go his way without vexing himself about 
new opinions. Yet he had plenty of sense 
and character. He kept his monks in good 
order, and no charge of misbehaviour was 
ever proved against him, even by his enemies. 
He was kind to his mother, and very willing 
to help poor scholars. He tells us that he 
liked good wine " red and claret," and that 
he was fond of herrings. The King's com- 
missioners, who looked into the affairs of the 
Abbey, could not deny that he went every 


day to service in his church. He seems to 
have been a man of homely ways, fond of 
gossip and company. He was on good terms 
with King Henry VIII. At new year they 
sent one another gifts. Henry sometimes 
stayed with the Abbot, and sometimes took 
him out hunting. He used to call him " his 
own Abbot." 

It was hard that this good, easy man should 
have to face the dangerous times through 
which England passed soon after 1520. Even 
his friendship with Henry could not save him 
from the storm that now began to break. 
That storm began when the King, in defiance 
of the Pope's wishes, resolved to divorce his 
wife, Katharine of Aragon, and to marry 
Anne Boleyn instead. At first, indeed, the 
Abbot seemed unwilling to blame Henry for 
his action in this matter. He also assented 
to many of the changes in the religious life 
of England which Henry now forced upon 
the people as a result of his quarrel with 
the Pope of Home. The Abbot, indeed, was 
by nature not at all obstinate. He would do 
much for the sake of peace. The King's 
commissioners, who visited Reading Abbey in 
1538, reported to the King that the Abbot 
was a man not difficult to persuade, and that 
he would not be likely to resist the King's 


wish that his Abbey, like the other monasteries 
of the realm, should be handed over to the 
Crown. It may be thought that the Kin^ 
and Thomas Cromwell, his minister, would 
have been content with such readiness to 
meet their grasping demands ; yet in Sep- 
tember, 1539, the Abbot was summoned to 
London, and thrown into prison in the Tower. 
Many false accusations were brought against 
him. At last he was required to declare 
that the King, and not the Pope, was the 
supreme head of the Church. You will 
remember that Sir Thomas More, and Bishop 
Fisher, and many other good men, could not 
conscientiously agree to this royal supremacy. 
Nor could the Abbot of Reading, however 
easy-going he might be about giving up his 
Abbey. Mild and good-natured though he 
was, he could not bring himself to deny what 
he had always believed to be true ; and 
therefore he could not consent to say that 
King Henry VIII. was the supreme head 
of the Church. On the contrary, he boldly 
declared that he would pray for the Pope as 
long as he lived. Such answers, in the fierce, 
unreasoning temper of the time, were taken 
as defiance of the King ; and so the Abbot 
of Heading found himself charged with high 
treason, together with the Abbots of Glaston- 


bury and Colchester. The three Abbots seem 
to have written to one another when in prison, 
and it is said that the letters were carried 
from one to another by a blind harper. 

At last the Abbot was brought to trial 
before some judges at Heading. It was not 
really a trial at all. There still exists a 
paper with writing on it in the hand of 
Thomas Cromwell, to the effect that the 
Abbot should be taken to Reading to be tried 
and executed. Prom this you can see how 
little chance he had of escape. A more 
shameful letter was never written by an 
English minister. 

Two of his monks were tried at the same 
time as Abbot Hugh. All three were con- 
demned to die. They were condemned to suffer 
the disgraceful and terrible death of a traitor. 
They were to be publicly hanged, and then 
their bodies were to be cut fco pieces. The 
execution took place in November, 1539. A 
gallows forty feet high had been erected at 
the Compter gate. "A great sight of people" 
gathered to witness the end. The last words 
of the Abbot showed that he was still faithful 
to the Pope as the head of Christendom. 
* * & & * 

England is now a Protestant country. The 
English people no longer approve of monks 


and monasteries, and they no longer acknow- 
ledge the supremacy of the Pope of Eome. 
Yet none of these things should hlind us to 
the nohle constancy, even unto death, shown 
by the Abbot of Reading, and many others at 
that time, to the old religious order. We 
honour the Protestant martyrs of Queen 
Mary's reign (1553—1558). It is right that 
we should also remember that those whom 
they opposed could be not less faithful to 
what thev held for truth and right. 



About 1555 Jocelin Palmer was appointed 
master of the Free School at Reading. He 
was the son of a Coventry tradesman, and was 
educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, where 
he became noted for his skill in Latin and 
Greek learning. At this time he was a keen 
supporter of the old Catholic order, then being 
attacked by Henry VIII. and the Protestant 
reformers. So zealous was he in support of 
the Catholic side that, during the reign of 
King Edward VI. (1547—1553), when the 
Protestant reformers had the upper hand, he 
was expelled from the College. He then be- 
came a tutor in the house of Sir Francis 
Knollys, at Reading, and soon afterwards he 
obtained the mastership of the Free School. 

While in the house of Sir Francis Knollys, 
Palmer seems to have been greatly moved by 
the heroic deaths of the Protestant martyrs 
under the persecutions of Queen Mary's 



government. It is said that he was an eve- 
witness of the burning of Ridley and Latimer 
at Oxford, and was so affected bv their 
dreadful fate and their noble courage in 
enduring it, as to condemn loudly their per- 
secutors. These feelings led him at last to 
change his religious opinions, and in the end 
he came to feel that he could no longer defend 
the old E/oman Catholic faith. Unfortunately 
for himself, he allowed others to know of this 
change in his opinions. The times were 
dangerous, and religious strife was bitter. 
When it became known that the master of 
the Free School had become a heretic, or 
Protestant reformer, the feeling against him 
ran so high that he had to leave the town. 
He fled in haste, leaving his goods behind 
him, and with a quarter's salary still owing 
to him. He first went to see his mother, and 
by her was severely reproached for changing 
his religious opinions. Then he went to 
Oxford, and while at Oxford he rashly re- 
solved to come back to Reading in order to 
recover his property and the arrears of his 
salary. In Reading he lodged in an inn 
called the " Cardinal's Hat." He wished no 
one to know of his return to the town, but his 
enemies discovered him ; and one night Palmer 
was dragged out of his bed and thrown into 


a dungeon, where, it is said, he was cruelly 
treated. After an examination before the 
Mayor of Reading he was sent before the 
Queen's commissioners at Newbury. He was 
charged with being a heretic, or Protestant 
reformer, and there is no doubt that Palmer 
could no longer accept the teaching of the old 
faith. Many questions were put to him, but 
he refused to give up his opinions. He held 
fast to that which he believed to be true. 
The result was that he was condemned to die. 
Together with two others, he was burned at 
the stake at Newbury. He was only twenty- 
four years old, 



Although after 1540 there was no longer an 
Abbot of Reading, many royal visits to 
Reading took place in the sixteenth century. 

King Henry VIII. made use of the Abbey 
buildings as a palace, and part of the old 
Hospital of St. John was used by him and his 
successors as stables for the royal horses. In 
the time of Elizabeth part of the Abbey was 
known as the Queen's House. Meanwhile, 
the estates of the monks were given away 
to courtiers, and some of the Abbey buildings 
were pulled down. Even the bridges and 
streets of Reading were repaired with the 
stones of Henry's Abbey. 

In 1552 the young King Edward VI. came 
to Reading. We still have an account, 
written down at the time, telling us how he 
was received. He was met at Coley Cross by 
Thomas Aldworth, the Mayor, and many of 
the people of Reading in their best apparel. 



As the King rode up, the Mayor on his knees 
welcomed him to the town. Then the Mayor 
took his mace, and kissed it, and in token of 
submission handed it to the King, who gently 
put it back into his hand again. The Mayor 
then mounted his horse, and rode before the 
King through the town, and so led him to the 
palace at the Abbey. This was the first time 
that Edward VI. had visited Reading, and 
the Mayor thought it would be proper to 
offer him a present. The present consisted 
of two yokes of oxen. They cost £1G, and 
were paid for by the burgesses. The Mayor 
and burgesses also felt that politeness required 
them to present gifts of money to the King's 
heralds, his sergeants -at-arms, his trumpeters, 
his cup-bearer, his footmen, and the other 
officers in waiting on him. 

King Edward died the following year. In 
July, 1554, Queen Mary and her consort, 
Philip II. of Spain, passed through Reading. 
They had come from Winchester, where their 
marriage had taken place in the cathedral. 
The English people were not particularly 
pleased about this marriage of their Queen 
with a foreign king ; but still the Heading 
burgesses behaved to her with loyal courtesy. 
Robert Eowyer was then Mayor. Accompanied 
by the chief burgesses in brave apparel, he 



met the Queen and her husband at the upper 
end of Sivier (Silver) Street, just where the 
Winchester (or Southampton) Road descends 
from Whitley Hill towards the town. As 
before, the Mayor knelt in loyal homage, 
handed to the Queen the mace, and from 
her hands received it again. Again he rode 
before his sovereign, bearing the mace in his 
hand, and so he led them to the palace at the 
Abbey. He presented them with " four great 
fat oxen," and again the officers of the Court 
received presents from the burgesses. 

Queen Elizabeth visited Reading on at 
least six occasions. So often was she in the 
town that in 1575 she caused a seat to be 
made for her in the chancel of St. Lawrence's 
church. This seat had a fine canopy above it, 
and was called the " state." When she visited 
the church, the floor was strewn with flowers 
and rushes. On the occasion of her visit in 
1602 she dined at Caversham House, where 
Lord Knollys, the controller of her house- 
hold, resided. Queen Elizabeth took much 
interest in Reading. In 1560 she granted to 
the Corporation a new charter greatly en- 
larging their powers and privileges. It was 
she who sent a large number of mulberry 
trees to Reading in order to encourage the 
industry of silk- weaving. 



Let us try to picture to ourselves Heading as 
it was about the end of Elizabeth's long reign 
(1558 — 1603) and the beginning of the Stuart 
period.* The cloth trade was then at the 
height of its prosperity. It is not likely, 
however, that in 1600 Reading contained more 
than about 5,000 people. Most of them dwelt 
within the space marked out by Old Street 
(now St. Mary's Butts and West Street), 
Friar Street, the Market Place, and the 
Hallowed Brook. There were, however, a 
good many houses in Castle Street and in 
London Street. In 1610 there were no 
regular places of worship other than the three 
old parish churches, though it is possible that 
as early as this date a few people may have 
been in the habit of meeting together privately 
to worship God in their own way.f 

* That is, just before the date of our oldest map of Read- 
ing, 1610. See map facing p. 10. 

t It is known that more than a century before 1610 
there were a few Lollards (followers of John Wiclif) in 


Much traffic, consisting chiefly of pack- 
horses and waggons, passed through the town 
along the western road from Bristol to London, 
and also along the road which led over Caver- 
sham Bridge to Oxford. Many barges passed 
to and from Beading by the Kennet and the 
Thames. Beading, in fact, had now become 
the chief town in Berkshire, and many 
observers praised the handsomeness of its 
streets and houses. 

It was a town of many bridges. In the 
year 1560 there were certainly nineteen. 
Seven of them were in the short street which 
crossed the streams of the Kennet. This 
street, now called Bridge Street, was then 
called Seven Bridges. Further, there were 
six bridges between Caversham Bridge and 
the remains of the Friary. Several of the 
brooks which these bridges crossed have since 
disappeared. Caversham Bridge itself was 
very ancient and curious. Part of it was 
wood, and part was stone. Half -way across 
it were the remains of the old chapel of the 
Holy Ghost, in earlier days visited by number- 
less pilgrims because of its celebrated relics. 
All round the town and quite close even to 
the main streets there were green fields, and 
within the town there were many gardens 
and orchards. The streets were, however, 


very narrow and crooked. Many of them 
were called "rows." The houses were so 
built that each storey overhung the one below 
it, and though their timbered fronts and 
numerous gables were pleasing to behold, the 
effect of building thus was to shut out light 
from the windows and road below. Moreover, 
many houses bore swinging signs, hung out 
over the roadway on poles, and these signs 
made things darker still. The pavement of 
the streets was very uneven. At best it con- 
sisted of flints and round pebbles rammed 
tightly together. A gutter ran doAvn the 
middle of the street, and all kinds of refuse 
collected in it. There was only one regular 
scavenger, and his work was to cleanse part 
of the town once a week. The pigs which 
strayed about the streets, and the surly dogs 
which lurked in doorways, perhaps made up 
a little for the lack of proper scavengers. 
There was no general system of drainage 
whatever at this time. Water, never filtered, 
was got from the rivers or out of wells. The 
lighting of the streets at night was then and 
long afterwards very poor. It was thought 
enough for householders to hang a lantern 
outside their doors on nights when there was 
no moon. There were no fire engines. A few 
leather buckets and some ladders were the 


only appliances in case of a house catching 
fire. Pear of fire caused the Corporation to 
forbid any one to use thatch for roofing. At 
nine o'clock at night the deep voice of 
" Harry," the big bell in St. Lawrence's tower, 
warned the people to go to bed, and at fire 
o'clock in the morning it warned them to 
get up. 

It was more than sixty years since the 
monks had been turned out of the Abbey, 
and large parts of their ancient habitation had 
been pulled down. But it would seem that the 
tower and spire of the great church yet stood, 
and so also did the noble chapter house. 
Enough of the old house of the Grey Friars 
remained in 1614 to make it a suitable lodging 
for Queen Anne, the wife of James I. The 
house was then approached from the street 
through an imposing arched gateAvay. The 
guest hall of St. John's Hospital was used 
for a town hall and for a free school, while 
the old dormitory of the Hospital had been 
turned into stables for the King's horses. In 
1611 John Blagrave, the mathematician, left 
some monev to make the Market Place 
larger, and also to build against the side of 
St. Lawrence's church, facing the Market Place, 
a covered walk, or cloister, for the shelter and 
comfort of market women and others, In 


some of the old pictures of the church this 
cloister may he observed. In the middle of 
the Market Place were the town pump, the 
whijming posts, the pillory, and the stocks. 

If we study the map of Reading in 1610, 
and also other sources of information, we 
notice many differences in the names and 
arrangement of the streets. Here are a few 
examples. The street now called Cross Street 
was then called Gutter Lane. The east end 
of Broad Street was split into Butchers' Bow 
and Pish Street, and a cluster of houses stood 
in the middle of the Butts. Near Butchers' 
Bow were the wool hall and the cloth market. 
Between West Street and the modern post 
office were the sheep market and the pig 
market. The corner by the Eriary was called 
the Toivn End. Minster Street was so narrow, 
and so often blocked with waggons, that in 
1618 the Corporation closed it with chains. 
There were archery butts in St. Mary's parish 
and in St. Giles's parish. On Whitley Hill 
there were some wooden houses, occasionally 
used for the reception of those stricken with 
the plague. There was no proper hosjntal for 
the sick or injured. 

There were many inns in the town. The 
chief of these were the George Inn and the 
Bear Inn. The George was already old, for 


it is said that it was built in 1506. It still 
continues, but the Bear has been closed. The 
Ship, the White Hart, and the Broad Pace 
also existed in the seventeenth century, and 
they exist still. 

On market days the Market Place was 
thronged with countryfolk, especially towards 
noon. If you could visit it at such times 
you would be likely to see many curious 
sights. You would see the aldermen of the 
Corporation going to the Town Hall in their 
furred gowns, and the burgesses' sons going 
to the Free School. Yonder might be an 
Arabian quack doctor trying to persuade 
people to buy his drugs ; or a ragged footpad 
caught in the act of cutting a woman's purse 
from her girdle. Here the people would 
gather round the town sergeants about to cry 
in a loud voice a proclamation fresh from 
London. Yonder would be a group of travel- 
ling actors anxious to be allowed to act their 
play in the Town Hall, or a knot of people who 
professed to have discovered a witch. Here 
would be two men fighting with cudgels and the 
constable running up to stop them. Seated on 
the ground with their feet fast in the stocks 
might be a drunkard or two, or a man caught 
swearing bad oaths. All sorts of people, 
travelling on the great roads, drifted through 


Reading and idled about the Market Place on 
market days : sailors from the western ports, 
soldiers on the march, fugitives from justice, 
workmen without work, Irishmen, and even 
Dutchmen, thieves and honest folk. The 
constables were very anxious to prevent 
beggars from stopping in the town, and we 
even read of one official called the " cripple 
carrier," whose duty it was to carry cripples 
beyond the borough boundary. 

Such then was Reading about three centuries 
ago. The town was on the threshold of 
memorable events. Those events, especially 
the Civil War, were to leave lasting marks 
upon its life, its well-being, and upon its 



Several times during the first part of the 
seventeenth century the plague visited 
Reading. The worst occasions were in 1608 
and from 1637 to 1639. At this time no one 
had any real understanding of the causes or 
nature of fevers or diseases like the plague, 
nor were there any sound methods for checking 
their spread, or for helping those who were 
afflicted with them. In Reading there may 
have been one or two physicians at this time, 
but their knowledge was of little real value. 
Nor were there any trained nurses, or a 
properly equipped hospital. The only sensible 
measure, generally taken in Reading, was to 
try to separate those who were suffering from 
the plague from those who were well. As 
soon as a case of plague was reported, the 
plan was to send women to examine the sick 
person in order to find out whether it was 
indeed a case of plague. These women were 
required to take an oath to tell the truth ; 


they were well paid, and they were the only 
nurses or sick attendants to be had. There 
were only two or three of them. Usually 
they were widows. For some reason those 
who were nursed by them took a great dislike 
to them. 

As soon as a case of plague was declared, 
watchmen were appointed to guard the house, 
and to prevent other persons from entering it. 
Since it was feared that the disease might be 
carried or spread by the river traffic from 
London, the Corporation in times of pestilence 
used to order that all goods brought to 
Reading should be well washed at the wharf. 
A rude hospital consisting of two cabins, or 
houses made of wood, was erected on Whitlev 
Hill. Hither the unhappy persons stricken 
or " visited " with the plague were carried, 
and there they were left to live or to die in 
the company of " Good wife Lowgey " and 
others of her kind. The plague was so bad 
in 1(539 that it was necessary to spend much 
money in enlarging the cabins. It would 
seem that between 1603 and 1610 about 
350 persons in Reading died of the plague. 
No fewer than 137 died in 1608, 



The time was now at hand when the peace of 
this thriving little town was to he broken, 
when through its homely streets were to sound 
the tramp of armed men, the clatter of horse, 
the peal of trumpets, and the roar of siege 
guns, and when the peaceful fields around it 
were to be torn up by military entrenchments. 
Eor the first time for more than a hundred 
years Englishmen were to draw the sword 
upon one another, and the nation was to be 
rent asunder under the leadership of rival 
captains. As the tumult of war rolled to and 
fro, Reading was to be caught in the furious 
grasp now of one side and now of the other. 
Both sides dealt with her mercilessly, and in 
the end she issued from this period of strife 
exhausted, and more than half ruined. 

What was it that brought about this quarrel 
among men of the same speech and blood ? 

Hear the words of the foremost leader in 
the strife : " The nature of this cause and the 


quarrel, what that was at first you all very 
ivell knoiv : it was the maintaining the liberty 
of these nations; our civil liberties as men, 
our spiritual liberties as Christians." These 
are the words of Oliver Cromwell. They are 
words to be remembered, and Englishmen can 
never forget the majesty of the quarrel of 
which he speaks. 

The questions which our forefathers were 
asking in 1640, and asking with angry im- 
patience, were such as these. Was the King 
of England to be master of his people ? Could 
he do as he liked with them, or must he 
follow the advice of his Parliament ? Could 
he tax his subjects, or throw them into prison, 
at his pleasure ? Could he govern the country 
without a Parliament at all ? Beyond these 
questions lay others deeper and more searching 
still. Were Englishmen to be forced to 
worship in one particular way, or might they 
worship as they pleased, each as he thought 
best ? When, after an interval of eleven 
years, Parliament at last assembled in 1610, 
the members rode up to Westminster from 
the shires and boroughs determined to thrash 
these questions out, and to settle them with 
King Charles I. once and for all. 

Yet these questions were hard questions, 
and men were by no means agreed as to what 


should be the right answer. Those who, like 
Pym and Cromwell, argued that there ought 
to be much greater liberty in all these matters, 
had much to do to convince others. They 
could not deny that the Kings of England had 
always possessed great power over their sub- 
jects and over Parliament. They could not 
deny that there had never been a time when 
the power of Parliament had been looked 
upon as higher than that of the King. They 
could not deny that there had never been a 
time when people had been allowed to think, 
and speak, and write about religion, and to 
worship just as they pleased. They could not 
but see that their own view of religion and 
worship was distasteful to a large part of the 
nation. So that when they demanded more 
liberty, and more power for Parliament, and 
changes in the national religion, it looked as 
if they wished to rob the King of his lawful 
rights and overthrow all good order. As soon 
as this seemed to be the case there sprang 
forward men eager to defend the King's 
authority — men who believed in order and 
obedience and in old custom, men who feared 
rash and violent changes. Among these, as 
among the others, were many men of high 
character, and of wisdom and long experience 
in government. 


Thus there was a party on the one side and 
a party on the other, and the gulf between 
them grew wide and deep. Each party had a 
noble cause, and Englishmen were stirred to 
that high mood which tells men to hazard 
ease and wealth and even life for the sake 
of right and truth. Had King Charles, 
or James his father, the King before him, 
better understood the character of Englishmen 
and how to rule them, perhaps the worst of 
the quarrel might have been avoided. But 
James and Charles went foolishly to work. 
Theirs was not the skill of the great Queen 
Elizabeth. They bitterly offended their sub- 
jects by throwing men into prison wrongfully, 
by taking money from them without consent 
of Parliament, by treating harshly and with 
scorn the religious feelings of the more 
earnest Protestants called Puritans. Charles 
was now to learn to his OAvn grievous cost 
that his subjects in England and Scotland, 
despite their patient endurance, would not 
for ever submit to be so mishandled. 

These Puritans, of whom there were many 
in Reading, were now very numerous. They 
were the children of the religious Reformation 
of the sixteenth century, when England broke 
from the Roman Catholic Church, of which 
the Pope is the head. They read diligently in 


the Bible, now translated into English, and 
the Bible was to them all in all. They had 
a deep dread of Roman Catholicism, and of 
any form of religion which looked at all like 
it. They were determined not to accept at 
the order of any king or bishop any form of 
worship or belief of which their conscience 
conld not approve. Compared with their 
religions faith, nothing else seemed to matter 
to them. In 1620, for example, some of the 
Puritan leaders bade farewell to their own 
land and sailed away in the Mayflower, to 
found beyond the stormy Atlantic a new home 
where they might worship God in peace. 
But the rest stayed on. Now in 1642 the 
time had come when they were to be put 
to the test. Either they must give in or they 
must draw the sword. Eor men of such a 
faith and temper there could be only one 
choice, and so began the greatest war within 
herself that England has ever known. 

Bight was not all on one side in this famous 
struggle. King Charles was not a wicked 
tyrant any more than Cromwell was a brutal 
usurper. Cromwell's strong soul in a thou- 
sand perils and the King's noble calm in 
facing death on the scaffold are among the 
glories of English history. Each side fought 
for high jirinciples. The Puritan noncon- 


formist fought for liberty; the churchman 
fought for order. Liberty and order are both 
precious to a nation ; the difficulty always has 
been, and must ever be, how to make them 
work smoothly together. Both sides showed 
devoted loyalty — the Roundhead to his Par- 
liament, the Cavalier to his King. To the 
Cavalier the King was not merely a common 
leader. He was the Lord's anointed, whose 
sacred rights he was ready to defend to the 
death. Both sides showed noble qualities 
under the fierce light of war. We honour the 
steadfast, devout men, plain of speech and 
fearing God, who fought with unquenchable 
valour by Cromwell's side on many a stricken 
field. We honour the eager, gallant spirit, 
the spirit of generous chivalry, faithful to 
death and scorning risks, of Cavaliers like 
Montrose, and the old Marquis of Basing, who, 
when his house was beaten about his ears by 
Cromwell's guns, undauntedly declared " that 
if the King had no more ground in England 
but Basing House, he would adventure it as 
he did and so maintain it to the uttermost." 
The best spirit of both sides — Puritan earnest- 
ness and Cavalier fire, Puritan duty and 
Cavalier honour, Puritan austerity and Cava- 
lier grace — England has need of all, and 
rightly does she honour those who in the 



great days of Charles and Cromwell showed 
these qualities so memorably. For it is not 
wealth of purse that makes a people great, 
but wealth of heroic souls. 

It was the fate of Reading, at once her 
privilege and her pain, to bear a part in the 
waging of this historic war. The capital of 
Puritans and Parliament was London ; the 
capital of King and Cavaliers was Oxford. 
Reading lay midway between the two, and 
was therefore bound to receive blows. More- 
over, its position in relation to roads and 
rivers gave it special importance. Reading 
commanded the Thames ; no barges could pass 
a hostile garrison posted at Reading. It com- 
manded a main road to Oxford which crossed 
Caversham Bridge. It commanded the great 
western road between London and Bristol, 
and it closed the valley of the Kennet, within 
which, at Newbury, two great battles were 
fought. The possession of Reading, therefore, 
was sure to be disputed by both sides. Pew 
towns, indeed, suffered more. And yet towns, 
like nations and individuals, are taught by 
suffering no less than by prosperity. To-day 
we are stirred by the thought that our own 
town counted for so much in this conflict of 
famous men and famous principles. 



In 1633 a strange spectacle was seen in 
Reading. On Saturday, December 21st, 
being market day, the Mayor and Corpora- 
tion assembled in the Market Place. With 
them were the constables and other officers. 
A great concourse of townspeople and country- 
folk crowded around them. They had gathered 
there to see a man, Lodowick Bowyer by 
name, set in the pillory by order of the court 
of Star Chamber. 

The pillory was a sort of wooden frame, 
in which a man was fixed in a standing 
posture so firmly that he could move neither 
his head nor his hands. Bowyer 's ears were 
nailed to the pillory, and a paper was 
fastened upon his head describing the offence 
of which he had been ^uiltv. He was 
required to read to the crowd a confession 
of his fault, and there he was left in his 
shame, a target for all who might fling stones 
or filth upon him, until it was considered that 


his punishment had been enough. Then he 
was taken back to prison. 

What was the offence of which Lodowick 
Bowyer had been guilty ? 

In the previous September this man was 
in Reading. He seems to have been a talka- 
tive, bragging fellow, and very likely he was 
too fond of tavern company. He was foolish 
enough to spread a malicious story about 
William Laud, who had just been made Arch- 
bishop of Canterbury. This story was to the 
effect that Laud had been writing letters to 
the Pope. These letters had been discovered, 
and because of them the King, said Bowyer, 
had placed Laud under arrest. Bowyer also 
said that Laud had been sending large sums 
of money every year to the Pope. The 
people of England detested the Pope, and 
these statements, if true, must cause them 
to think ill of Laud. 

There was no truth in this silly story. 
Yet men's minds were excited about Laud 
just then, and many people suspected that he 
was a Eoman Catholic at heart. In Beading 
people were sure to listen to any gossip about 
him, for Laud was a Beading man. Bowyer 's 
tale came to the ears of the Mayor of Bead- 
ing, who inquired into it, and threw Bowyer 
into prison. When the Mayor reported what 


Bowyer had said to the Secretary of State 
in London, the Secretary of State said that 
no man would tell snch a foolish story who 
was not drunk or mad. The Mayor of Read- 
ing, however, made much ado ahout a small 
trouble, and nothing would please him hut 
to send Bowyer to London. Soon afterwards 
Bowyer was brought before the court of Star 

When we read the punishment which was 
ordered to be inflicted upon this babbler, 
we can understand how the English people 
came to hate the court of Star Chamber. 
The court of Star Chamber said that Bowyer 
was to pay a tine of £3,000 ; that he was 
to stand in the pillory three times — twice 
in London and once in Beading — with his 
ears nailed to the pillory ; that he was to 
be whipped ; that he was to be branded in 
the face with the letter " R," to signify 
" Bogue," or " L," to signify "Liar"; and 
that, after these punishments had been in- 
flicted upon him, he was to be imprisoned 
for life. 

This, then, was what might happen in those 
days if a nobody was foolish enough to re- 
peat an idle tale about a great man high in 
the King's favour. Such an offence may 
have deserved a slight punishment, but wise 


men would have passed it over with contempt. 
These outrageous Star Chamber sentences 
were one of the chief causes why so many 
people came to rebel against the government 
of King Charles I., and to regard with hatred 
men, like William Laud, who assented to 



Prom 1629 to 1640 King Charles I. tried to 
rule England without a Parliament. He had 
been angered by his failure to win the trust 
and support of the House of Commons, and 
in proud resentment, he resolved to break with 
the customs of his people and to rule without 
their help. It was a bold scheme, but it 
needed a stronger will and clearer head than 
Charles possessed to carry it to success, so 
deeply rooted were ancient liberties in English 

Since no regular taxes could properly be 
levied without consent of Parliament, the 
King soon found himself in lack of money 
wherewith to carry on his government. He 
therefore had to make use of shifts for raising 
money. Among these, the one which became 
most noised among the people, and kindled 
most anger, was the tax of Ship Money. 
Ship Money was a charge levied now and 
then in previous times upon the people by 


the King when there had been danger of inva- 
sion by sea. Usually it had been paid by the 
sea-board shires only. The reasons why men 
were so angry that this tax should be levied 
by King Charles were because they did not 
believe that invasion then threatened, because 
he exacted the tax from inland shires like 
Berkshire no less than from sea-board shires 
like Kent, and because already it had come 
to be regarded as a breach of the under- 
standing between the sovereign and his sub- 
jects for any tax to be laid on the people 
without the consent of the House of Commons. 
Men felt that the King was not acting fairly. 
If he wanted money he should call a Par- 
liament, and persuade Parliament to make 
him a grant in the usual way. It was this 
tax of Ship Money that John Hampden, a 
gentleman of Buckinghamshire, refused to 
pay on the grounds that it was contrary both 
to the law of the land and to the liberties of 
the people. His case came before the King's 
judges, and was decided against him. But 
the people continued angry. 

The first demand on Beading for Ship 
Money was received in August, 1635. It 
required the town to raise £260 # u towards 

• In this case, as in all others of the kind referring to 
bygone times, it must be remembered that the value of 


the providing and furnishing of one ship of 
war to he in readiness at Portsmouth by the 
1st March next." Nine years earlier the 
burgesses of Reading had shown how little 
they were disposed to agree to demands by the 
King for money unless those demands had 
the consent and authority of Parliament. In 
1626 Charles had asked Reading for what 
was called a "free gift," or "forced loan" — 
that is, a grant of money not authorised by 
Parliament. The leading men of Reading 
met in their Town Hall, and this was their 
loyal but resolute answer : And it ivas then 
and there generally with one consent and ivith 
one voice resolved and answered that every 
man was willing his Majesty's want of money 
should be supplied, but not in manner as it is 
required; and desire that there may be a Par- 
liament, for then all men should be bound to 
pay a part. Such had been the answer of 
Reading to the King's unjust demands in 
1626 ; and its answer was similar in 1635. 
Even on this first occasion of 1635 there were 
some burgesses in Reading who would not 
pay the tax. Their goods were, therefore, 
seized by constables and sold. Each year 

money was much greater then than now. A demand for 
,£260 in 1635 would be represented now by a demand for 
a sum several times as large. 


until 1640 these demands by the King were 
renewed, and each year there was the same 
difficulty in persuading people to pay the 
tax. In July, 1638, the constable was again 
seizing the goods of those who would not pay 
of their own will. Here is the record of 
a case in Reading. 

"A distress in goods of Mr. James Smith 
for twenty shillings taxed upon him : — 

One copper kettle, Avorth , 14s. 

One iron pot, worth . . 4s. 

One iron kettle, worth . . 3s. 


" Henry Prewyn and Roger Walker, praisers. 

" Instantly Richard Stampe in Mr. Smith's 
behalf paid the 20s. and redeemed the goods 
before they were sold." 

In 1640 Berkshire petitioned the King 
against the continuance of Ship Money. And 
now the temper of the nation was such that 
it was impossible for the tax to continue 
longer. In 1640 the King's affairs were in 
such a plight that he had no choice but to 
call Parliament together. In November the 
famous Long Parliament assembled. It made 
short work of abuses like Ship Money. In 


1641 Parliament declared that the levying of 
Ship Money was unlawful. In the same year 
the Corporation of Reading resolved that those 
persons within the town whose goods had been 
sold in order to meet the demands of the tax- 
collectors should have their money repaid to 
them by the Corporation. It would almost 
seem from this entry that, latterly, at any 
rate, no one in the town had voluntarily paid 
any part of the tax of Ship Money, but that 
the only money obtained by the tax-collectors 
had been as a result of forced sales of the 
tax-payers' goods. 



For more than six centuries, since the calling 
of the famous Model Parliament by the first 
King Edward in the year 1295, Reading has 
been represented in Parliament. Until a few 
years ago it has been represented by two 
members. It would seem that until the seven- 
teenth century the custom was for the tAvo 
" burgesses of Parliament," as they were 
called, to be chosen by the Mayor and bur- 
gesses in the Gild Hall ; and probably no one 
had any voice in choosing them except the 
members of the Gild or Corporation. Not 
until the seventeenth century does the general 
body of townsmen seem to have been consulted 
at all. So that, throughout this early period, 
a parliamentary election was by no means the 
occasion of bustle and excitement, of public 
meetings and placards and noisy processions, 
that it has become in our times. 

The members of Parliament elected for 


Reading in the old days were almost always 
leading burgesses of the town. Service in 
Parliament was not then so much a coveted 
honour as a burdensome duty. Those elected 
to serve in Parliament therefore received wages 
from the town so long as Parliament was 
sitting. They were paid two shillings a day.* 
About the beginning of the seventeenth 
century, however, there came a notable 
change. As we have already seen, great 
questions were then stirring the country, and 
the growing power of Parliament caused men 
to be eager to enter the House of Commons. 
Prom this three things resulted. Pirst, we 
find that not only burgesses of Reading, but 
strangers from outside, often men of high 
position, became eager to be elected for 
Reading. Secondly, men were so eager to 
be elected that they were willing to give 
up their wages of two shillings a day. And 
thirdly, the public interest taken in elections 
became so keen and widespread that the 
Corporation were no longer able to keep the 
election of members of Parliament wholly in 
their own hands. It was now found that the 
mass of the townspeople, those who were 
called the commonalty, insisted on having 
a voice in the election. When we find this 

* See note at page 136. 


to be the case we know that we have reached 
times and conditions like our own. Interest 
in politics has become general. 

The first instance of a disputed parlia- 
mentary election in Reading belongs to the 
year 1624. There were four candidates, and 
of course only two of them could be elected. 
But this election was conducted much in the 
old way, and it was not what we should now 
call a contested election ; for the members 
were elected at a meeting of the Corporation, 
and the only voters were members of the 
Corporation. Sir Francis Knollys was placed 
at the head of the poll with twenty-one votes. 
But during the eleven years in which King 
Charles tried to rule England without a 
Parliament the political excitement of the 
country steadily grew; and when, in 1640, 
Parliament was at last called together, the 
townspeople of Beading for the first time 
demanded of the Corporation a voice in the 
election of their representatives in the House 
of Commons. Even now, however, it is not 
certain that any votes except those of the 
Corporation were actually given. What hap- 
pened was that the Town Hall was so beset 
by the people that the Corporation could not 
proceed with the business of the election. 
And next day, in order to calm the excited 


people, the Mayor came forth from the Council 
Chamber and told them that Sir Francis 
Knollys and his son had been elected by the 
Corporation " and by many others." It is 
clear that the Mayor felt that the Corpora- 
tion could no longer keep the election all 
to themselves. 

Later in the year a new Parliament was 
called, afterwards famous as the Long Parlia- 
ment. At Beading there were five candidates. 
As before, the election was begun in the 
Council Chamber and finished in public, and 
we find that two of the chief " commoners " 
claimed on behalf of the townspeople gener- 
ally a right to vote. It does not seem certain 
that any of the townspeople actually did vote 
on this occasion, but the names of the two 
candidates chosen by the Corporation were 
submitted to the people outside the Council 
Chamber, and both were approved. 

In 1645 what we should now call a bye- 
election was held, owing to the death of one 
of the members elected in 1640. This time 
the townspeople secured the right to vote, 
and probably for the first time exercised it. 
Polling went on all day, and the successful 
candidate received 560 votes, and his opponent 
309. This was the first real case of a publicly 
contested parliamentary election in Reading. 


Never since that time has the Corporation 
ventured to claim the sole right to choose the 
members of Parliament for the borough, 
although, in the eighteenth century, the right 
to vote in a parliamentary election became 
limited to a small number of persons. Not 
until the great Reform Act of 1832 was the 
franchise, or right to vote, extended largely. 
Later in the nineteenth century further 
franchise reforms added to the number of 



One January morning, in the year 1645, a 
dense crowd of people gathered on the hill 
hard by the Tower of London. In the midst 
of them and above the sea of heads rose a 
scaffold bearing a headsman's block and axe. 
So great was the press that the people not 
only covered all the ground, but they thronged 
the windows and roofs of houses near, while 
some stood beneath the scaffold itself. To- 
wards eleven o'clock a procession issued from 
the Tower gates. Accompanied by Sir John 
Pennington, Lieutenant of the Tower, and a 
guard of soldiers, an old man came forth. 
He was dressed with plain dignity. His hair 
was white, and he supported his steps with a 
staff. He bore himself with brave composure. 
As he mounted the scaffold, and turned to 
speak to the people, his cheeks did not pale 
nor did his voice falter. Having spoken and 
prayed with solemn fervour, he knelt down 

145 10 


and laid his head upon the block, and with 
words of prayer upon his lips died beneath the 
headsman's axe. He who thus perished in 
the face of the hushed multitude was William 
Laud, of Reading, Archbishop of Canterbury. 
Seventy-two years before, on October 7th, 
1573, William Laud was born in Reading in 
a small house, now pulled down, which stood 
on the north side of Broad Street. His father 
was a prosperous clothier; his mother's brother 
became Lord Mayor of London. The boy was 
sent to the Free School at Reading. In after 
life Laud did not think well of the master 
who taught him; but he was a clever boy, and 
he got on fast with his studies. He was still 
a school-boy in .1588, when all England was 
stirred by the triumph over the Spanish 
Armada. Next year, at the age of sixteen, 
he left school for the University of Oxford, 
where he entered St. John's College. He 
obtained one of the scholarships established 
by Sir Thomas White at the College, for the 
benefit of boys educated at the Free School, 
Reading. At Oxford he was a keen student, 
and after he had taken his degree in 1594, he 
quickly rose to high position in the Uni- 
versity. In 1611 he was appointed President 
of St. John's College. Under him the College 
prospered greatly. He added to its buildings 


and raised its reputation. On one occasion 
he entertained there with splendour King 
Charles I. and his Queen, Henrietta Maria. 
In 1621 he was appointed Bishop of St. 
David's, in Wales. Charles L, who became 
King in 1625, admired and trusted Laud ; 
hence, in 1628, Laud became Bishop of 
London. Five years later he was raised to 
the highest position in the Church of England, 
that of Archbishop of Canterbury. 

We have already seen that at this time the 
nation was deeply troubled by differences in 
religion. Laud, from the first, took a leading 
part in these questions, and no man had a 
greater share in shaping the religious policy 
of King Charles I. It is because of his share 
in these things that Laud has been so severely 
blamed by some and so warmly praised by 
others. Laud's fear was lest the religious 
changes in England should go too far. On 
the one hand, he was opposed to the Roman 
Catholics ; on the other hand, he distrusted and 
disliked the Puritans. He wished all men to 
accept the teaching and worship of the Church 
of England, which he desired to see both 
purified from old abuses and free from new 
errors. He upheld his views with great 
learning, industry, and enthusiasm. Yet his 
zeal led him to pay too little heed to the 


convictions and feelings of men no less earnest 
and sincere than himself. He was too ready 
to adopt harsh methods when he could not 
win his way hy persuasion. He could not 
bear to think that English religion should 
lack unity and uniformity. When, therefore, 
he came to have power over the King's policy, 
he issued order after order intended to 
force all people to accept one way of wor- 
ship and faith. In the end he drove the 
Puritans of England and Scotland to stern 
resistance. They came to believe that he was 
at best only a lukewarm supporter of that 
Protestant faith so dear to them, nor could 
they ever forgive him for the harsh measures 
which he took, or to which he consented, 
against themselves. When the Long Parlia- 
ment met in 1640, and the storm of opposition 
to King Charles at last broke forth, all men 
knew that Archbishop Laud and his great 
friend, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford 
— the two men who were believed to have 
had most share in the King's policy — would 
both be brought to judgement. Laud was 
impeached before the House of Lords by the 
House of Commons, and placed under arrest. 
Eor two-and-a-half years he was imprisoned 
in the Tower of London awaiting his trial. 
His property was taken from him, and his 


goods were sold. At last his trial began in 
November, 1643. He was charged with 
attempting to overthrow the laws of the 
Protestant religion. The judges, who were 
consulted, said that it would be impossible 
to convict him of high treason. Even so he 
was not to escape. An order was made by 
Parliament that he should die. 

It is not likely that people will ever agree 
in their judgement of Archbishop Laud. He 
was too closely concerned in the religious 
warfare which left so deep a mark upon the 
life of England and of Scotland. During his 
life his opinions, and the severity with which 
he sought to enforce them, stirred up hatred, 
which still lingers. He still has champions 
and he still has opponents. That perhaps is 
why there is and can be no public and con- 
spicuous memorial in Reading to the man 
who, of all the sons of Reading, bears the 
most noted name. 

Yet Reading, which owes so much to his 
generosity, need not fear to remember what 
was good and honourable in William Laud as 
well as what was to be blamed. Whatever 
may be thought of his religious policy, he had 
many noble qualities. Although his bodily 
health was never good, no man of those days 
worked harder for great purposes. He did 


not heap up wealth for himself. Whatever 
mistakes he made, he served the King with 
unselfish devotion, and he was kind and 
generous to those who served himself. If his 
temper w r as hasty, and his manners often 
harsh and displeasing, he loved the simple 
pleasures of his garden, of his singing hirds, 
and of music. That he possessed true courage 
of the soul, he showed by his manner of facing 
a dreadful death. The cause of learning 
owed much to him. He was a lover of hooks 
and jnctures, anc [ } ie made many splendid 
gifts to the great library at Oxford. Finally 
we should remember that Reading, the town 
of his birth, was ever dear to him. " As long 
as I forget not myself," he wrote from his cell 
in the Tower of London to the Mayor of 
Reading, "I cannot but remember that place." 
Soon after he became Archbishop of Canter- 
bury he began to consider how best he could 
benefit the town where he was born and bred. 
He gave the Corporation much help and 
advice in the appointment of a new master 
of the Free School. More important was the 
service which he rendered to the Corporation 
in helping them to obtain, in the year 1638, a 
new charter of liberties from the King. For 
these services Laud was thanked by the 
Corporation. The charter, which was thus 


obtained, conferred upon the Corporation 
valuable powers and privileges which they 
had not possessed before. Again, in 1640, 
Laud gave noble effect to his " great longing 
to do some good to the town of Reading." 
This desire to do something for Reading, and 
for poor people there, had long been in his 
mind, and the plan came to him, he tells us, 
one night when he was at his prayers. He 
now gave to the Corporation lands at Bray, in 
Berkshire, worth £200 a year. This income, 
large for those times, was to be spent in 
apprenticing poor boys to honest trades, and 
in giving marriage portions to poor girls. 
Nearly all the benefits were for Beading boys 
and girls, but some help was to be given to 
boys and girls of Wokingham, where Laud's 
father had been born. Of the remaining 
income, £50 a year was to be paid to the Vicar 
of St. Lawrence's Church ; £20 a year was to 
be paid towards the salary, very small hither- 
to, of the Master of the Free School ; and £10 
a year was to be paid for the cost of an in- 
spection of the School every three years by 
officials of the University of Oxford. Thus 
Laud takes his place among the benefactors 
of Beading, and it is perhaps for this reason 
that his portrait still hangs in the Council 
Chamber at the Town Hall. 



It was on the stormy evening of August 25th, 
1642, that King Charles I. unfurled his 
standard at Nottingham, and the great Civil 
War began. Already a week previously the 
people of Reading were busy setting up posts 
and chains to guard the roads leading into 
their town. Danger indeed was near. The 
King marched across England to Shrewsbury, 
and from Shrewsbury he bent his course upon 
London. On October 23rd he fought the 
battle of Edge Hill, which was neither a 
victory nor a defeat, and six days later he 
rode into Oxford in pomp. On November 3rd 
he sent a stern order to the Mayor and 
aldermen of Reading that they should make 
Caversham Bridge strong enough for the 
passage of his army by eight o'clock on the 
next morning. On November 4th he crossed 
the bridge and led his troops into Reading. 
Three days earlier the officer who had held 
Reading with a small garrison for the Parlia- 



ment had fled. The King halted at Reading 
a good part of the month of November, 
forcing all the tailors there to work hard in 
order to make for his army a thousand suits 
of clothes. He was checked in his further 
advance upon London, and on November 28th 
he retreated to Oxford, which henceforth 
became the Royalist head quarters. 

The King had decided that Reading would 
be a useful outpost to him. He felt that 
while he held Reading his enemies could 
not safely advance upon him from London. 
When, therefore, he marched away in Novem- 
ber, 1642, he left behind him a garrison of 
2,000 foot and a regiment of horse, under Sir 
Arthur Aston as Governor. 

It was now that the hardships of Reading 
began. Both sides, especially the King's, 
were short of monev. One after another the 
military Governors of Reading set to work to 
wring money from the town. Aston twice 
demanded a loan of £2,000, besides a heavy 
contribution every week. In order to pay 
these sums, the Corporation had to borrow 
money on the security of their wool hall, 
their market tolls, and other properties. They 
appealed desperately to the King, but they 
obtained little satisfaction from his vague 
promises of repayment. 


Meanwhile, the town was converted into 
a fortress. The Free School became a maga- 
zine of arms. Soldiers were quartered in 
John Kenclrick's house of industry in 
Minster Street, at the Friary, at the royal 
stables in the old Hospital of St. John, and 
in Thomas Harrison's barn on Whitley Hill. 
All passage to and from the town was strictly 
guarded. Nearly 3,000 soldiers were quar- 
tered upon 5,000 inhabitants. Quiet towns- 
men went in fear of their lives. Houses were 
broken into ; some were burned down ; the 
very magistrates were beaten in the streets. 
By day and by night there were frequent 
alarms that the Roundheads were about to 
assault the ramparts. The cloth trade Avas 
ruined, for no waggon or packhorse dared 
venture on the roads. The one thing that 
kept the clothiers busy was the forced task 
of making for the garrison clothes, for which 
payment was seldom if ever to be had. 

On April 13th, 1643, the Earl of Essex, 
at the head of a Parliamentary army, left 
Windsor, bent upon wresting Reading from 
the Cavaliers as the first step to an attack on 
Oxford. With the Earl, a staunch old soldier 
whom the soldiers called "Old Robin," were 
16,000 foot soldiers, 3,000 horse, and a train 
of siege guns. With him also were Philip 


Skippon, a veteran who had fought in the 
Low Countries, and famous John Hampden 
at the head of his Buckinghamshire green- 
coats. Essex drew near the town on its 
western side, seized Gaversham Bridge, and 
thus made it difficult for Beading to be re- 
lieved by the King at Oxford. He then sent 
a stern message to Aston, the Governor, bid- 
ding him surrender. Aston retorted that 
either he would hold the town for the King, 
or he would starve and die in it. Essex, 
therefore, resolved to lay siege to Beading. 
His head quarters was the old moated house 
of Sir John Blagrave which still stands at 
Southcote. During the night of April loth 
his soldiers threw up their batteries, and early 
on the following Sunday, April 16th, the guns 
of the Barliamentary army opened fire upon 
the town. This was the first siege that had 
as yet taken place in the Civil War. No such 
Sabbath had ever dawned in Beading. 

Aston seems to have had about 3,000 men. 
In cannon he was not so strong as Essex. He 
had plenty of food, and he had well fortified 
the town. The " main bulwarks " were in 
the shape of a four-sided figure. Erom the 
Eriary (Grey Friars Church) the line of ram- 
parts ran to the north-east corner of the Abbey 
enclosure. Thence they turned southward, 


and, following roughly the line of the modern 
Sidmouth Street, they crossed London Road, 
and turned westward about half-way up the 
ascent of the present Kendrick Road. Thence 
they passed westward over Katesgrove Hill, 
and down the steep slope to the Kennet. 
The meadows between Katesgrove Hill and 
Castle Hill were flooded, so that none could 
cross them or break in that way. At the top 
of Castle Hill the earthworks began again, 
and from there they passed in a straight line 
to the Friary. In addition to this long line 
of encircling ramparts there were a number 
of separate forts. There was a fort on Caver- 
sham Hill, one on Whitley Hill, and one 
on Castle Hill, and at points along the 
ramparts, especially where roads entered the 
town, there were smaller redoubts and forts. 
It is said that the earthworks were in some 
places strengthened by wooden palisades, and 
by the woolpacks of the clothiers. 

Day after day the guns of Essex thundered 
upon the town. He beat down the steeple of 
Caversham church, upon which Aston had 
mounted a cannon. He raised the drawbridge 
at Caversham Bridge, and, little by little, he 
pushed forward his men within musket-shot 
of the garrison on the west and south-west. 
On April 18th a force of Royalists was des- 


cried on the Oxfordshire hills. The Royalist 
officer who led them saw that he could not 
enter the town by Caversham Bridge. He 
therefore pressed on to Sonning, and from 
Sonning he managed to send 600 musketeers 
and a supply of ammunition to Reading in 
boats. By the 19th Reading was beset on all 
sides. On the same day Sir Arthur Aston 
was wounded in the head by a splinter of 
brick thrown up by a cannon-ball. Colonel 
Richard Fielding took his place as commander. 
It is also said that the besiegers' cannon 
battered to pieces the steeple of St. Giles's 

On April 22nd a messenger from Oxford 
slipped through the besiegers' lines, swam 
across the Thames, and announced the joyful 
news that relief was at hand. But this 
plucky messenger was caught by the soldiers 
of Essex on his return ; and therefore, the 
surprise attack on the Roundheads could not 
be made. The King now became much 
alarmed for the safety of his garrison at 
Reading. He summoned Prince Rupert from 
Lichfield; and on April 24th, Rupert, the 
gallant leader of cavalry, joined the King, 
already on his way to Reading to relieve the 

But on the very day that the King drew 


near, and just before he began his assault on 
the forces of Essex, Fielding hung out a 
white flag and agreed to surrender. Almost 
at the same moment the Royalist musketeers, 
a thousand strong, burst upon the Parlia- 
mentary guard at Caversham Bridge. Charles 
and Rupert led the charge as they dashed 
upon the bridge. Prom the hill above 
their guns supported their attack. At first 
they seemed likely to prevail, but as they 
crowded upon the narrow bridge they offered 
an easy target to the Parliamentary sharp- 
shooters who lined the opposite bank of the 
river. Now was the time for Fielding to 
sally forth from Reading, and join forces with 
the King. The King knew nothing of the 
flag of truce, and he was bitterly disappointed 
that Fielding did not come. The Royalists 
failed to force their way across the bridge. 
A sudden storm of hail and rain, breaking 
from the April skies, beat in their faces and 
completed their discomfiture. They withdrew 
up the hill, hotly pressed by the victorious 
Roundheads and leaving many dead and 
wounded behind them. The King himself 
went to Caversham House. Later in the day 
he heard of the surrender. Reluctantly he 
agreed to it. Next day he crossed the hills 
to Nettlebed. 


On April 26th the articles of surrender were 
signed. Early on the 27th the trumpets blew, 
and the King's garrison at Reading mustered 
to march out with the honours of war. At 
ten o'clock a long procession began to move 
towards the old Oxford Hoad, which then left 
the town at the Friary. First, in a litter 
borne by horses and covered with red hang- 
ings, came the wounded Governor, Sir Arthur 
Aston. Then came waggons with the sick 
and wounded. After them came four cannon, 
dragged by teams of horses. Lastly marched 
the main body of the soldiers. With colours 
aloft and lighted match, with drums beating 
and trumpets sounding, horse and foot passed 
through the ramparts and took the road by 
Caversham Bridge to Oxford. 

Disgraceful scenes were now to take place. 
At Friars' Corner the soldiers of Essex stood 
ranked ready to enter the captured town. 
From jeers and insults towards their beaten 
foes they proceeded to violence. Waggons 
were plundered, weapons were snatched away, 
and riotous scenes followed the entrance of 
the victors to the town. Houses were sacked, 
taverns were broken open, and soon drunken- 
ness was added to the tumult. Not until 
after two days did discipline return. On 
Sunday, April 30th, the Puritan earnestness 


regained its sway. Morning, noon, and night 
the churches were crowded. But the Cava- 
liers never forgave the breach of faith shown 
by the soldiers of Essex. 

Reading remained in the hands of the 
Parliamentarians until the end of September, 
1643. It changed hands more than once, but 
in the end it passed permanently into the 
keeping of the victorious Parliament. 



After the capture of Reading in April, 1643, 
Essex stayed in the town until May 26th, 
partly because of sickness among his soldiers, 
and partly because officers and men refused 
to march without pay. Not until May 17th 
did the necessary money arrive from London. 
On May 26th Essex resolved to move the 
greater part of his army to the higher ground 
and healthier situation of Caver sham Hill. 
He fixed his own quarters in Lord Craven's 
house, while the soldiers were to encamp in 
the park. A guard of one regiment was to 
remain in Reading. 

The order to leave was ill received by the 
army. The men again clamoured for pay, 
and many refused to budge. Essex went out 
among them, and rebuked them, and pleaded 
with them; but in vain. Towards nightfall 
he persuaded " with much ado " his own 
regiment to accompany him across the bridge 
to Caversham Hill. Most of the army then 

161 -Q 


followed, but the regiment of John Hampden 
showed itself openly mutinous and would not 
march. Hampden, however, was of all men 
the least easy to frighten or beat down. On 
the following day he again faced his stubborn 
men, and plied them " with good words and 
fair language." At last his pleading, and 
the force of his strong, courageous character 
awoke the instinct of loyalty. Soon the 
mutineers of yesterday were cheerfully march- 
ing to join their comrades at Caversham. 

Less than a month from this time, on 
June 18th, brave John Hampden received his 
death-wound at Chalgrove Field, in Oxford- 
shire. With heads bared and arms reversed, 
with voices uplifted — while muffled drums 
throbbed and rolled — in the strain of that 
psalm which tells how the sons of men fade 
away suddenly like the grass, the soldiers 
who had fought by his side laid his body to 
rest in the church of Hampden. 

It is interesting to remember that not only 
was Hampden present at the siege and cap- 
ture of Reading in 1643, but that he was 
connected with the town in other ways. He 
married the widow of Sir Thomas Vachell 
and daughter of Sir Francis Knollys. Both 
Sir Thomas Vachell and Sir Francis Knollys 
were closely connected with Reading. They 


held property there, and Sir Francis Knollys 
and the nephew of Sir Thomas Vachell re- 
presented Reading in Parliament. It was 
through this marriage that John Hampden 
became the owner of Coley House at Reading, 
where King Charles stayed in May, 1644. 
In the roll of our patriots no name stands 
higher than the name of Hampden. We may 
be proud that our town should have been 
associated with him. With the name of 
Hampden may be mentioned the name of 
Christopher Milton, brother of the great poet, 
who was living in Reading at the time of the 
siege of 1643. 



In May, 1644, King Charles gave orders that 
Reading, which had been held by his forces 
since September, 1643, should be abandoned. 
He knew that a Roundhead army was ad- 
vancing from London, and he feared that he 
was not strong enough to hold Reading 
against it. Before leaving, however, he 
caused the fortifications of Reading to be 
destroyed, so that they should not be used 
against him by his enemies. The Royalists 
then marched away to Oxford. Soon after- 
wards the troops of the Earl of Essex again 
occupied the town. 

A change of masters made little difference 
to the people of Reading, for both sides 
always made ruinous demands upon them 
for money and labour. But little did they 
foresee what was now to happen. A few 
miles away, Lieutenant-Colonel Lower held 
Wallingford for the King. He knew that 
Reading had not paid all the money asked 



for by Charles, and he knew also that 
the Roundhead force in Reading was as yet 
small. He now planned a daring stroke. 
Suddenly, on the night of June 2nd, a party 
of Royalist horsemen swooped down upon the 
town and carried off William Brackston, the 
Mayor, to Wallingford. 

Prom Wallingford they allowed the Mayor 
to send a letter to the aldermen of Reading, 
saying that he would be kept a prisoner 
until the money demanded from the town 
by the King should be paid. The aldermen 
at Reading wrote back to ask how much 
money was wanted. On this thorny subject 
letters passed to and fro. Colonel Lower was 
very polite. He offered to exchange the 
Mayor for two aldermen ; but he said he 
should not give him up until he was assured 
that the money would be paid over. The 
aldermen at Reading knew not what to do. 
None of them seems to have been anxious 
to be exchanged for the Mayor, nor did 
they know where to turn for money. On 
June 25th they met privately at the house of 
one of their number. They had before them 
the King's demand for £150 already due, and 
for £50 a week henceforth for the mainten- 
ance of the garrison at Wallingford. This 
letter was much debated and considered. 


There was hardly any money left in the 
town. At length they resolved to send a 
submissive answer and to say that they 
wished they could do what was asked, but 
they were quite unable, and that they there- 
fore begged that Colonel Lower would show 
forbearance towards them. On the next day 
Lower wrote back to say that this kind of 
reply was not what he wanted. Nevertheless, 
he would consent to accept £100, and to be 
content with less than £50 a week ; but until 
they should agree to these modified terms the 
Mayor would stay at Wallingford. Further, 
if it should come to his ears that the 
aldermen were helping the rebels he should 
double his demands. 

Again there was a private meeting of the 
aldermen at Beading, and again they resolved 
to beg Lower to forbear. They also sent a 
petition to the King at Oxford, asking for the 
release of the Mayor, and for an abatement of 
the demands made upon them for money. The 
council at Oxford seem to have given some 
attention to this entreaty, and it would seem 
that before long the Mayor regained his liberty, 
and returned to Reading. Yet to the end of 
his days, he would remember the wild gallop 
through the summer lanes on the night when 
he was kidnapped by the Cavaliers. 



During the fifty years from 1640 to 1690 the 
history of England was crowded with stirring 
events. First came the Great Rebellion, which 
ended in the victory of the Parliament and in 
the execution of Kinsr Charles. Next followed 
the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. Then 
there was the interval between his death 
(1658) and the Restoration (1660), during 
which the feeble Richard Cromwell tried to 
rule. In 1660 the old monarchy was restored, 
and for some years the government of the 
country ran much upon its old lines. In 
1685 occurred the dangerous rebellion of 
Monmouth, crushed at the battle of Sedge- 
moor. Then, in 1688, King James II. kindled 
such anger in the nation by his religious 
policy, that William of Orange was invited 
to rescue the country from his rule. James 
fled, and William and Mary became King and 
Queen. Thus in fifty years the life of the 


nation underwent frequent changes. Of all 
these changes we find many records in the 
annals of Eeading. 

The townspeople and the members of the 
Corporation were often divided, some favour- 
ing one side of a question and some another. 
Yet, upon the whole, they accepted very 
quietly these great changes that followed one 
another so quickly. Perhaps Ave should be 
risrht in thinking that their sufferings in the 
Civil AYar were so grievous, that they were 
ready to obey any ruling power which pro- 
mised a j^i'iod. of quiet and orderly govern- 
ment. Yet, like the rest of the English people, 
thev would not for ever be loval to a kinsr who 
attacked the Protestant religion. 

Xo event in English history made a deeper 
mark upon the minds of men than the exe- 
cution of King Charles I. on January 30th, 
1649. Whatever mistakes he might have 
made, it was impossible for most men not to 
feel pity for his fate. Yet, if we look in the 
diary of the Corporation of Reading, we can 
see onlv one sign of this tremendous event. 
This one sign is that whereas on one page an 
entry is dated " the 29th January in the year 
of our Lord 1648 and in the 2Wi year of the 
reign of King Charles of England," the next 
entry is dated " the bth day of February in the 


year of our Lord 1648." # The Corporation, 
in fact, bowed to the new order of things. 
They bought a new mace, and sjave orders 
that the roval arms should not be engraved 
upon it. They hastened to wait on Oliver 
Cromwell with wine and sugar when he rested 
at the Bear Inn on his way through Reading. 
They rewarded the ringers whose peals cele- 
brated " the prosperous success of the army 
in Scotland," when Cromwell won his great 
victory of Dunbar (September 3rd. 1650), and 
"the good success" at "Worcester when, ex- 
actly a vear later, Cromwell won another 
victory over the Royalists. When the Pro- 
tector died they referred to him as " the most 
serene and renowned Oliver, Lord Protector 
of this Commonwealth"; and they j)roceeded 
to proclaim, with pomp, the succession of 
" the most noble and illustrious Lord, the 
Lord Richard, to be Protector of the Common- 
wealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland, 
and the dominions and territories thereto 
belonging." This was in September, 1658. 
Less than two years later, in May. 1660, the 
Corporation were making quite a different 
proclamation. They were announcing " with 
great solemnity and rejoicing, on a stage set 

* We should now call this year 1649, and not 1648, as 
our years now begin in January, and not in March. 


up in the open Market Place, our Sovereign 
Lord King Charles II." Once more they sent 
the mace to the goldsmith; this time the 
royal arms were to be replaced upon it. And 
they spent money in providing beer, wine, 
and bonfires for the people. 

The accession of King James II., in 1685, 
was announced in Reading " with great accla- 
mations, the bells ringing, drums beating, and 
trumpets sounding." Five months later, in 
June, 1685, the Town Clerk publicly read a 
proclamation denouncing the Duke of Mon- 
mouth and all who supported his rebellion as 
traitors. Not long after, the Queen of 
James II., and his daughter, afterwards Queen 
Anne, passed through Reading, and on each 
occasion the Corporation, robed in their gowns, 
waited upon them " with a dish of sweet- 
meats." A few months later James II. fled 
from the country. The long period of change 
closed with a notable incident in September, 
1690, when the Mayor and Corporation, in 
their gowns, proceeded to the top of Castle 
Hill, and handed their mace in token of 
obedience, and forty broad pieces of gold in 
token of affection, to William of Orange, 
now become King William III. of England, 
Avho was returning from Ireland after his 
victory at the Boyne. 



Visits to Reading of George Fox and John Bunyan. 

Until the Protestant Reformation of the 
sixteenth century the English people followed 
a single teaching and worship in religion. 
After the Reformation, however, differences 
arose. Not only were there still many who 
clung to the old Roman Catholic faith, but 
the attempt to include all those who followed 
the reformed teaching in one national church 
proved a failure. As we have already seen, 
the disturbances in England in the seventeenth 
century were chiefly caused by the conflict 
between Laud and the Church of England on 
the one hand, and the Puritans on the other. 
When, in 1660, after the Great Rebellion and 
the Commonwealth, the monarchy was re- 
stored, the Church of England again obtained 
the upper hand. Severe laws were now 
passed against all who would not conform to 
the teaching and worship of the Church of 


England. Yet these harsh laws did not 
destroy the nonconformists ; and congrega- 
tions were then formed which in many cases 
have continued until now. 

Three religious bodies now existing in 
Reading first arose in the great days of the 
Puritans. The Congregational church in 
Broad Street, formerly known as the Inde- 
pendent chapel, was first established about 
two hundred and fifty years ago. The Inde- 
pendents, indeed, even trace their origin to 
the days of Elizabeth, but it does not appear 
that they existed in Reading before 1655. 
The Independents were then very powerful 
in the country, and among them was the Lord 
Protector Cromwell himself. The first Inde- 
pendent pastor in Reading seems to have been 
Thomas Juice, who in 1662 was turned out 
of his position at Worcester as a minister 
of the Church of England because, like two 
thousand other ministers, he could not accept 
the principles of the Church of England as 
laid down by the Act of Uniformity of that 
year. A consequence of his courageous re- 
fusal to accept what he believed to be wrong 
was that he lost his income. He seems to 
have come to Reading in 1665. The laws 
pressed hardly upon him, and we are told 
that on one occasion he had to hide from his 


persecutors in a bark rick belonging to a 
tanner in Mill Lane. 

A Baptist Congregation of Reading seems 
to have sprung up about the year 1640. The 
Baptists used to meet for worship in Pigney 
Lane, on the banks of a branch of the Kennet, 
not far from the Bear Inn. From the back 
door of the house where they met, a plank 
could be thrown across the stream, so that, 
if the services should be interrupted by the 
officers of the law, the congregation might 
make their escaj)e. Many of the Beading 
Baptists were thrown into prison because of 
their refusal to conform to the Church of 
England. In 1688 John Bunyan, the famous 
author of The Pilgrim's Progress, preached 
at the Baptist meeting-house in Beading, his 
last sermon but one. It is said that he had 
preached in Beading more than once pre- 
viously, and that, in order to avoid being 
seized for breaking the law, he adopted the 
disguise of a waggoner with a whip in his 

Luring the same period a third religious 
body arose in Beading. This was a branch 
of the Society of Friends, sometimes called 
Quakers. The founder of the Friends' Society 
was George Box, and he tells us in his journal 
that he came to Beading in 1655. He held a 


meeting in an orchard, which he describes as 
" a glorious meeting." In 1658 George Pox 
stayed for ten weeks in Reading, exhorting 
the people. He was here again several times 
before his death, for he spent his life travel- 
ling about the country preaching to meetings 
of Friends. In 1670, when he came to 
Heading, he found that most of the Friends 
had been thrown into prison. He visited 
them there, and only just escaped imprison- 
ment himself. 

It is interesting to remember that a very 
famous man sometimes worshipped with the 
Heading Friends. This was William Penn, 
founder of the colony in North America called 
after him, Pennsylvania. Penn spent the last 
years of his life at Ruscombe, near Twyford, 
a few miles from Reading. 



In the seventeenth century Reading received 
many gifts or benefactions. Some of them 
were of much value, and the fact that there 
were so many just at this time, may be taken 
as proof of the thriving state in which the 
cloth trade then was. Most of these gifts were 
intended to help boys and girls who had lost 
their parents, or the very poor, or the aged 
and infirm. Usually the Corporation of 
Reading were asked to see that the bene- 
factions were properly used. 

A chief benefactor to Reading was 
Richard Aldworth, a native of Reading, who 
died in 1646. He gave the Corporation 
£4,000 in order to found a school for twenty 
poor boys, who were to be taught, clothed, 
lodged, and fed, free of charge. The boys 
were to wear a blue coat and a blue cap, so 
that they might " be known from other 



children, and be noted for their behaviour." 
Richard Aldworth also left money to pay for 
a suitable school-master. The school was 
opened in 1660 at the corner of Silver Street 
and London Boad. We read that in March 
of that year the Corporation bought blue 
coats, blue caps, rugs, and bedding for the 
boys. So arose the Blue Coat School, which 
in later times received more gifts, and now 
stands in the Bath Road. 

Another noted benefactor was John Kend- 
rick. John Kendrick was a clothier of 
London, but a native of Beading. He died 
in 1625, and he left the Corporation of 
Beading the large sum of £7,500 to be 
devoted chiefly to the building of a large 
house for the employment of poor people 
in the clothing trade. He also left money 
which could be lent without charge for 
three years to poor clothiers starting in 
business in Beading. He made several other 
gifts, including a sum to defray the cost of 
holding a service in St. Mary's church every 
morning at six o'clock. John Kendrick 's 
house of work, known as the " Oracle," was 
situated in Minster Street. It did not prove 
altogether a success ; and as the clothing 
trade declined in Beading it became less and 
less useful. Yet the valuable property from 


which the income of Kendrick's charity was 
derived, might still have been turned to 
splendid account for the benefit of Reading 
people, but for the fact that, owing to a 
lawsuit, the Kendrick estates passed, in 1849, 
into the hands of Christ's Hospital in London. 
About the same time the old Oracle was 
pulled down, and the only relics of it which 
now remain are the carved wooden gates to 
be seen in Tilehurst Road. The gates still 
bear upon them the initials of John Kendrick. 
A third benefactor of Reading was John 
Blagrave, who, in 1611, not only left money 
to improve the Market Place, and to build a 
cloister by St. Lawrence's church, but also 
provided that every year, on Good Friday, 
between the hours of six and nine in the 
morning, £10 should be paid to the Corpora- 
tion in a new purse of leather. Before noon 
on that day this money was to be thus spent. 
Twenty nobles were to be given as a marriage 
portion to a poor maid-servant, who could 
show that she had served well for five years. 
Every year there were to be three such can- 
didates — one, if possible, out of each parish. 
Every fifth year one of the three maids was 
to be chosen from Southcote, where John 
Blagrave had lived. The lucky maid was to 
be chosen by lot, and the old custom was for 



three pieces of paper to be put into a hat, and 
for a little boy to be brought from the Free 
School in order to distribute the lots in the 
presence of the Mayor. John Blagrave also 
arranged that after the casting of the lots a 
sermon should be preached in St. Lawrence's 
church. After the sermon sixty poor house- 
holders of St. Lawrence's parish, for each of 
whom he provided a gift, were to escort the 
lucky maid to her home, while a peal was 
rung upon the church bells. You may see 
John Blagrave's monument in St. Lawrence's 
church. In the Council Chamber at the 
Town Hall are pictures of Richard Aldworth 
and John Kendrick. 



Prom 1685 to 1688 James II. was King. 
His government proved so tyrannical, and 
so hateful to the people because of its Roman 
Catholic policy, that in 1688 some of the chief 
men in England invited William, Prince of 
Orange, who had married Mary, daughter 
of James, to come over to England to deliver 
the country. On November 5th, 1688, Wil- 
liam landed at Torbay, in Devonshire. He 
brought with him a large army, and as soon 
as the soldiers were disembarked he began to 
march through the west of England towards 
London. James at first tried to resist him, 
but his army melted away ; and William 
marched steadily forward. The appearance 
of his army excited great interest. At the 
head of it rode a body of gentlemen upon 
Flemish war-horses. These gentlemen wore 
brass armour and were attended by negroes. 
Then came Swedish horsemen in black armour 
arid fur cloaks. After them came Swiss 


infantry with fierce-looking whiskers, and 
Dutch soldiers, and heavy brass cannon. 
William himself rode in armonr upon a white 
horse, and wore a white plume. The banner 
which was carried with the army bore upon 
it this inscription : The Protestant religion 
and the liberties of England. 

On Thursday, December 6th, the Prince of 
Orange and a strong body of troops reached 
Hungerforcl, on the borders of Berkshire and 
Wiltshire. There it had been agreed that 
commissioners, representing James, should 
hold conference with the Prince. This con- 
ference took place on December 8th, in a 
large room at the Bear Inn. The Prince 
himself lodged at Littlecote Hall, an ancient 
manor house two miles away. 

While the Prince of Orange was at Hunger- 
ford, there took place at Reading the only 
fighting which marked the course of the 
famous and successful effort to deliver England 
from Kins: James. 

The army of King James was encamped on 
Hounslow Heath, and an advance guard of 
six hundred soldiers, horse and foot, belonging 
to this army, was posted in Beading. These 
men were Irishmen and Boman Catholics, and 
at that time no person was more unpopular 
in. England than one who was both an Irish- 


man and a Papist. The people of Reading 
beheld the arrival of this force with mingled 
hatred and terror. It was even believed that 
the Irish soldiers had received secret orders 
to massacre the inhabitants and to plunder 
the town on Sunday during service. It is 
said that, so great was the alarm, that many 
of the inhabitants ran away, and that, in order 
to put a stop to this, the commander of the 
Irish force posted sentries at all the chief 
entrances to the town. Meanwhile, the people 
of Heading managed to send a message to the 
Prince at Hungerford, begging for deliverance 
from the hands of the Irishmen. Two hun- 
dred and fifty of William's soldiers were 
thereupon sent forward to clear the Irishmen 
out of Reading. 

The Irish were warned of the approach of 
their enemy and they took measures to defeat 
its purpose. At the corner of Castle Street 
a troop of horse was drawn up in the yard 
of the Bear Inn. The walls of St. Mary's 
churchyard were lined with musketeers. A 
force t was posted in Broad Street and a sen- 
tinel was stationed on the top of St. Mary's 
tower in order that he might give warning 
of the approach of the enemy. The main 
body of the Irish force was drawn up in the 
Market Place. 


These plans were made in the belief that 
the Dutchmen would enter the town by the 
w r estern road. But the Dutchmen were 
warned by the friendly inhabitants to ap- 
proach from another direction. When still 
some distance from Reading, they turned to 
the left and marched along what was then 
called Pangbourne Lane (now Oxford Road), 
taking cover under the hedges. Thus they 
entered the town unperceived, and at once fell 
upon the Irish soldiers. 

So sudden an onslaught threw the de- 
fenders into confusion. Those in Broad Street 
and those in Castle Street were driven pell- 
mell into the Market Place. Their stampede 
spread panic among their comrades. The 
whole force took to its heels and fled towards 
Twyford. As they fled through the streets, 
the inhabitants fired upon them from the 
windows. The Irish lost their colours and 
fifty men. Only five of the Dutch soldiers 
w r ere slain. Several of the dead were buried 
in St. Giles's churchyard. 

Such w f as the Reading Skirmish. Slight 
as it was, it was the principal fighting in 
connexion with William's expedition. It 
was long celebrated in Reading. Every 
year the bells of the churches rang out 
in honour of the deliverance of the town, 


and an old ballad told the story in these 
lines : — 

Five hundred Papishes came there 

To make a final end 
Of all the town in time of prayer ; 

But (iod did them defend. 



On Monday, July 8th, 1723, there appeared 
in Reading the first number of a newspaper 
which called itself the Reading Mercury, or 
Weekly Entertainer. It consists of twelve 
pages. The printed part of each page covers 
a space not more than five and a quarter 
inches wide by seven inches long. On the 
outer page is a picture of the town of 
Reading. The paper was to appear weekly, 
and its cost was three-halfpence a copy. 
Inside the first number is a letter from 
the printers addressed to the Mayor and to 
the public. The printers say that the art 
of printing had spread far and wide, and 
that it was now fitting for Heading to have 
a newspaper of its own. They promise to 
publish trustworthy news, " and when a 
scarcity of news happens we shall divert you 
with something merry." They then give a 
short account of Berkshire and of Beading. 
They say that Beading market is reputed 



one of the best in England for all sorts of 
grain and provisions, and that the meadows 
within the borough, are noted for their fer- 
tility. The rest of the first number consists 
of scraps of news and a few advertisements. 
We read that a prodigious whale had been 
caught near Ehode Island ; that a Dutch 
ship had been attacked by pirates ; that a 
subterraneous fire had broken out in Kent ; 
that a murder had taken place near Shrews- 
bury ; that some one had won £10,000 in a 
lottery ; that a man had been robbed by foot- 
pads ; and that a Heading man had been killed 
in a cart accident. 

From 1723 up to the present time — more 
than one hundred and eighty years — the 
Reading Mercury has appeared every week, 
and it is now one of the oldest newspapers 
in the kingdom. To-day it is many scores 
of times as large as it was at first. It owed 
its origin to John Watts, who in 1723 was 
Mayor of Heading. John Watts was a very 
energetic man. He not only founded the 
Heading Mercury, but he raised money in 
order to make a better road between Caver- 
sham and Heading, and he engaged in other 
useful works for the benefit of the town. 
He died in 1750, and was buried in St, 
Lawrence's Church, 


In later times taxes and duties caused news- 
papers to become very expensive. In 1800, 
for example, the Reading Mercury cost seven- 
pence a copy. We are told that people used 
sometimes to borrow a copy from a neighbour, 
and pay a halfpenny or a penny for per- 
mission to read it. The early volumes of 
the Reading Mercury contain much valuable 
information about old times in Reading and 
the neighbourhood. During the first part 
of the nineteenth century the editors of the 
paper rendered most useful service by in- 
teresting Reading people in great questions 
such as the reform of Parliament, the introduc- 
tion of railways, and also in questions nearer 
home, such as the necessity to introduce into 
the town a better system of drainage and 
water supply. Eor nearly a hundred years 
after 1723, there was no other newspaper 
published in Reading. 



Compared with the stirring times of Round- 
head and Cavalier, the eighteenth century in 
Reading seems dull indeed. The Abbey was 
now degraded into a quarry for building 
materials. The cloth trade had long been 
dwindling. No searching questions in re- 
ligion or politics stirred the nation. Never- 
theless, much quiet progress in Reading was 
going on ; and in no direction was more 
useful progress made than in respect of roads 
and waterways. 

In the reign of Queen Anne (1702 — 1714) 
the approaches by road to Reading were very 
bad. No one had troubled to mend them for 
a long time, and often they were almost 
impassable. Sometimes a carriage would stick 
fast in the mire until additional horses were 
brought to drag it forward. In 1714, there- 
fore, the members of Parliament for Reading 
managed to secure an Act of Parliament 
whereby the great western road from Reading 



to a point beyond Theale was put in good 
order. Four years later, another Act made 
it possible to repair and keep in order that 
part of the London Road which lies between 
Reading and Maidenhead Bridge. About the 
same time Sir William Blackstone, member of 
Parliament for Wallingford, carried through a 
scheme by which a good road was made from 
Oxford to Wallingford, and from Wallingford 
to Reading. Henceforth, therefore, the best 
route from Reading to Oxford was along the 
road now called Oxford Road, and not, as in 
former times, over Oaversham Bridge. In 
1724, John Watts, Mayor of Reading, raised 
a public fund, as we have already heard, in 
order to improve the road between Reading 
and Caversham Bridge. Hitherto, every time 
the locks on the Thames to the westward 
of Reading were opened, the roadway and 
meadows between Caversham Bridge and 
Reading had been flooded. In winter this 
piece of road had often been impassable for 
weeks together, and the Oxfordshire villagers 
could not get to Reading market. About the 
same date Caversham Bridge was repaired. 

While Reading was thus improving its 
approaches, roads were also being improved 
elsewhere. The result was that, before the 
eighteenth century closed, Reading became 


linked with the chief towns of the kingdom 
by a splendid system of smooth roads on which 
mail-coaches conld rnn at a rapid pace. 

During the same period much was done 
to improve and extend the waterways of the 
country. The trade of England was growing 
fast, and it was necessary to find some cheap 
and easy way of carrying heavy goods from 
one part of the country to another. Even 
if the roads had been much better than they 
were, it would not have been possible to 
carry all such goods in waggons, except at 
very great expense. Therefore, men began 
to turn their minds to the rivers, and 
to plan and make artificial waterways or 
canals. One of the earliest of these canals 
was that connecting Reading and Newbury. 
Reading and Newbury were already connected 
by the river Kennet ; but the channel of the 
Kennet was not in all parts deep or straight 
enough for heavy barges. About 1723, there- 
fore, parts of the Kennet channel between 
Reading and Newbury were joined together 
by a number of cuts or canals, and in this 
manner a waterway, eighteen and a half 
miles long, controlled by twenty locks, and 
deep enough to carry barges of 110 tons 
burden, was constructed at a cost of £81,000. 
This was a great step, but between 1795 and 


1810 this line of waterway was extended. 
The Kennet and Avon Canal was then made 
under the direction of the famous engineer, 
John Bennie, at a cost of about a million 
pounds. Its effect was to connect Reading 
by means of an excellent waterway with 
Bristol. Further, between 1800 and 1802 an 
improvement was made in the Kennet channel 
between High Bridge in Duke Street and the 
Thames. The channel was made deeper and 
straighter. Thus Beading could be reached 
by water from Bristol on the west and from 
London on the east. During the same period 
canals were made from Oxford to Birming- 
ham, and from Lechlade, the point at which 
the Thames ceases to be navigable, to the 
Severn. These new waterways placed Bead- 
ing in direct communication with the Mid- 
lands and South Wales. 

The trade of Beading gained much by these 
improvements. Beading is the chief town in 
a large district thickly covered with villages 
and farms. Prom the date of these improve- 
ments it became an important centre of ex- 
port and import trade. Prom the Kennet 
wharves great quantities of flour, malt, 
timber, cheese, and wool were despatched in 
barges to London and other markets ; while 
to the same wharves and by the same 



waterways iron and hardware were brought 
from Birmingham, stone from Bath, coal from 
Somerset and Wales, pottery from Stafford- 
shire, and groceries from London. Along the 
roads also came more and more traffic. By 
day and by night, coaches rattled through the 




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William Stanford ^Company, Ltd, 


streets. Great inns, like the Crown, the Bear, 
and the King's Arms on Castle Hill, sprang 
into note as coaching inns. The population, 
which during most of the eighteenth century 
had hardly grown at all, began at the close 
to grow fast. It is believed that in 1700 the 
number of people in Beading was about 7,690. 
In 1801, when the first official census was 


held, the number was returned as 9,421. 
But within the next ten years (1801 — 1811) 
there occurred an increase almost as large as 
the total increase during the previous century. 
There is no doubt that the population of the 
town now began to grow fast because of 
the better roads and new waterways which 
had made Reading into an excellent centre 
for trade. 



Every year four fairs were held in Heading. 
Candlemas Pair (February 2nd), May Fair 
(May 1st), and St. James's Pair (July 25th), 
were chiefly cattle fairs. Prom all parts of 
the country droves of horses and oxen arrived 
at Reading, and dealers carried on brisk 
business. So numerous were the cattle that, 
in 1840, it was found necessary to hold St. 
James's Pair, not in Friar Street and Broad 
Street as hitherto, but in the Forbury. The 
fourth fair was the Michaelmas Cheese Fair 
(September 25th). This fair was originally 
for the sale of hops and serges as well as of 
cheese, and formerly it used to be held in the 
old Cheese Row. As early as 1697, however, 
it was necessary to move it to the Forbury. 
Between 1750 and 1850, owing to the im- 
proved roads and waterways, and owing to 
the central position of Reading, the fair 
became one of the principal cheese fairs in 
the country. From the dairy farms of 

193 13 


Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, and 
Dorset, hundreds of waggons and barges 
brought cheese to Reading. The carters 
often took hack with them loads of birch 
brooms, which they sold in the towns and 
villages as they went home. The Cheese Pair 
seems to have reached its highest note about 
the end of the eighteenth century. In 1795 
it was recorded that 1,200 tons of cheese were 
offered for sale in the Forbury. We may say 
that this amount of cheese would be worth 
£60,000. During the next fifty years the 
amount of cheese brought to the fair each 
year varied from 500 to 1,000 tons. The 
opening of railways seems to have caused the 
amount of cheese shown in the Forbury to 
diminish, for the custom arose of leaving it 
unloaded in the trucks, and of selling it by 

Michaelmas Fair brought together a multi- 
tude of people. It was a fair at which ser- 
vants were hired. Hundreds of farm servants, 
both men and women — shepherds, waggoners, 
dairymaids, milkmen, ploughmen, woodmen, 
and others — came to the fair to seek employ- 
ment, or a change of masters. They stood in 
long lines while the farmers went up and 
down, picking and choosing among them. 
Cattle from Scotland, ponies from the Shetland 


Islands, from the New Forest, or from Wales, 
were also to be seen, and there were dealers, 
cheap-jacks, and showmen of all kinds. The 
Forbury was crowded, not only with stands 
of cheese, bnt with stalls, booths, swings, 
roundabouts, peepshows, wild beasts in cages, 
and other wonders. For many years the fair 
used to be visited by Wombwell's Menagerie. 
Pickpockets and sharpers of all kinds mingled 
with the crowd, and usually reaped a good 



Until about the middle of the nineteenth 
century, any kind of building was thought 
good enough for a prison, and no punishment 
was too severe to inflict on those who had 
broken the law. John Howard, the famous 
prison reformer, visited the Heading prisons 
four times between 1773 and 1779. At that 
time the county gaol stood at the foot of 
Castle Street, and it was in a very bad con- 
dition. In 1793 the gaol was rebuilt in the 
Eorbury, and made large enough to hold 121 
prisoners. The Reading gaol was one of the 
first to introduce the tread-mill as a form of 
punishment, and it became the custom for 
people to go and watch prisoners undergoing 
their painful and useless labour of treading 
the mill. This gaol was in its turn con- 
demned, and the present gaol Avas opened in 
the year 1844. 

John Howard also visited the town prison, 


which at that time was the old church of the 
Grey Friars. He found it filthy and ruinous, 
without any court for exercise, and without 
water. There was no means of warming it, 
there was no proper drainage, and the place 
was overrun by rats. One of the cells was 
also used as a stable. There was no infirmary 
or sick-room, and there was no religious in- 
struction or care given to the prisoners. Yet 
in 1829 the Mayor of Reading said the prison 
was good enough for its purpose. Public 
opinion, however, iioav insisted on a change, 
and soon afterwards this prison was closed. 

A century ago there were no policemen 
in Reading. One or two watchmen with 
lanterns used to pace the streets at night, 
calling out the hour, and what the weather 
was. The watchmen were so few that they 
were quite unable to keep the town in good 
order. Robberies and begging, street-fighting 
and other disorders were frequent. It was 
largely because there were no police, and 
because messages travelled along the roads so 
slowly, that highway robberies were so com- 
mon. A highwayman upon a fast horse was 
not easily caught. There are many instances 
of coaches and travellers being stopped and 
robbed, even within sight of Reading. In 
1814, bank-notes worth £6,000 were stolen 


from a coach on its way froni London to 
Reading. In 1817 a Catholic clergyman, 
returning from Wallingford to Reading with 
a sum of money in his jiocket, was robbed 
and murdered in Oxford Road, not far from 
where the present barracks stand. 

Punishments for such crimes were severe. 
Men were transported for seven years for 
trifling thefts, such as stealing a pair of 
shoes or a silk handkerchief. They were 
hanged, not only for wilful murder, but for" 
stealing sheep, or for burglary, or robbery on 
the highway. Thus, in 1800, eight men were 
sentenced to death at Reading Assizes, but 
only one of them had committed murder. 
Until 1793, those who were condemned to 
death at Reading were hanged on Gallows 
Tree Common, at Lower Erleigh. The cart in 
which the j)risoner rode, used to stop at a 
tavern in Silver Street, and the hangman 
and his victim used to drink together. In 
later years executions took place in public, 
at the county gaol, and large crowds used to 
gather to see the death sentence carried out. 

The old punishments of the pillory, stocks, 
and whipping-post were still occasionally used 
at the beginning of the nineteenth century. 
In 1812, for example, a Reading tradesman 
was seen to purchase two baskets of eggs in 


order to pelt a man, who had heen put in the 
pillory in the Market Place. Thieves and 
beggars were flogged in the Market Place as 
late as 1819. About the same date, a wretched 
man, whose only offence was that he had stolen 
a loaf, was flogged at the cart's tail from 
the prison in Priar Street to his house in 
Silver Street. Such was the brutality of his 
punishment that he never recovered, or left 
his house again. 

In 1830 and 1831, Reading gaol was crowded 
with country labourers, accused of burning 
the farmers' stacks of corn in revenge for the 
introduction of steam threshing machines. 
The men feared that these machines would 
cause less labour to be wanted. Ni^ht after 
night, Reading people used to see from the 
Porbury the red glare of fires in the villages 
around. A guard of soldiers was sent from 
Windsor to protect the town. When the 
prisoners, 138 in number, were brought to 
trial it was found that 76 of them could 
neither read nor write. Many of them were 
imprisoned ; some were transported ; three 
were condemned to death. Through the 
efforts of two members of the Society of 
Priends in Reading, two of these three were 
reprieved. The third was hanged at Reading. 



Before 1810 there were no public week-day 
schools for Heading children. Some years 
earlier Sunday Schools had been started in 
connexion with churches and chapels, and at 
first these Sunday Schools taught reading and 
writing. It was felt, however, that this was 
not enough, and that great numbers of 
children were growing up in ignorance. 
Therefore, in 1810, a new school for week- 
day teaching was built in Southampton Street. 
It was known as the Lancasterian or British 
School, because it was one of the schools of 
the British and Foreign School Society, which 
arose in London in 1808 in order to he]p 
Joseph Lancaster, a noble-hearted Quaker, in 
his efforts to educate poor children. Within 
two years there were nearly 300 boys in 
attendance. On June 4th, 1812, all the boys 
were paraded in the Market Place in honour 
of the birthday of King George III. Each 



scholar received a cake. In 1818 accommo- 
dation was provided for girls as Avell as boys. 
In 1821 it was stated that this school had 
educated nearly 2,000 boys. 

In 1811, a year after the foundation of the 
Lancasterian School, a branch of the National 
Society for promoting the education of the 
poor in the principles of the Church of 
England, was formed in Heading. This re- 
sulted in the opening, in 1813, of a second 
school for boys and girls from the whole town. 
The school was held "in a large room which 
had formerly been the refectory (or dining 
hall) in the Abbey." 

These schools were very inferior in their 
buildings and equipment to the schools of the 
present day, but they mark a great advance 
in the history of public education in Heading. 
From that time to this, the work of providing 
education for all classes has gone steadily 
forward, and the advantages which every 
child possesses to-day are therefore the result 
of nearly a hundred years of effort and 



In 1832, after the hardest political struggle 

known for generations, the great measure for 

reforming the House of Commons, and for 

making it more representative of the nation, 

was at last passed into law. The struggle 

had been long and exciting. In Reading, as 

elsewhere, its course was marked by public 

meetings and stirring incidents. Express 

horsemen and coaches hastened continually 

along the road from London with news of the 

progress of the Eill in Parliament. Every 

step in its progress was celebrated by the 

ringing of church bells and by the cheering 

of crowds ; while on one occasion, when it 

seemed as if the Bill would be lost, the 

Reading Mercury appeared with a black 

border, and many tradesmen refused to pay 

their taxes. London newspapers with full 

reports of the debates in Parliament were 

carried by express riders to Reading, arriving 


THE REFORM ACT OF 1832. 203 

about six o'clock in the morning. Handbills 
containing a summary of the debate were 
quickly printed at the office of the Reading 
Mercury. As many as three thousand of 
these bills would be distributed in one morn- 
ing. At last, on June 7th, 1832, the Reform 
Bill became law. Nothing now remained but 
to celebrate the hard-won victory of liberty 
and justice. 

Many suggestions were made, but it was 
at length agreed that the people of Reading 
should dine together in the streets on July 18th. 
At dawn on that clay there was a salute of 
cannon from the Eorbury ; drums began to 
beat and bells to ring. Throughout the town 
the houses were decorated with laurel, and 
thousands of strangers flocked in from the 
country round. At three o'clock the company 
sat down to dinner at 116 tables, each fifty 
feet long, and loaded with food and decorations. 
These tables stretched along London Street, 
Duke Street, King Street, Minster Street, 
Broad Street, Friar Street, and the Market 
Place. Several parties dined on barges which 
had been dragged into the streets on waggons 
or rollers. Besides those seated at the tables, 
nearly 4,000 others joined in the feast. At 
five o'clock the whole company moved to the 
Porbury, and the evening passed in sports 


and amusements. Such was the good order 
on this joyful occasion, that on the morrow 
there were no complaints to bring before 
the magistrates. " All passed off well," said 
one who was present ; " it was a glorious 
sight to see so many people happy." 



On September 30th, 1833, there appeared 
in the Reading Mercury a long prospectus 
or account of a new railway, to be called 
the Great Western Railway, which it was 
proposed to construct between London and 
Bristol. The prospectus stated that the 
construction of this railway would occupy 
four or five years, and that it would cost 
nearly three million pounds. The Mercury 
was in favour of this important scheme, but 
there were many who opposed it. Some 
people thought that as London and Bristol 
were so far apart, and that as they were rival 
ports, it would be hardly possible for much 
traffic to be carried on between them. The 
railway, these people said, would only fill the 
pockets of the men who were paid to make 
it, and must end in failure. Meetings in 
Beading were held both for and against the 
scheme. After a long struggle, an Act of 



Parliament, authorising the formation of the 
railway, was passed in 1835. The news was 
received in Reading with rejoicing. 

Work was at once begun. Early in 1837 
the long cutting through the high ground 
near Sonning was being made. The men 
worked by night by the light of coach-lamps, 
as well as by clay. In June, 1838, the rail- 
way w r as opened from London to Maidenhead. 
Keen interest was taken by the people in the 
appearance of the trains. The carriages were 
described as "immense moving houses," and 
the pace of the trains, which reached twenty- 
eight miles an hour, caused amazement. It 
became common for the coaches that ran from 
Bristol through Heading to London to stop at 
Maidenhead on their way to London. There 
the horses were taken out, and the coaches 
were placed on railway trucks, and in this 
manner, with the passengers still inside them, 
they proceeded by railway to London. Thus 
they managed to shorten the journey from 
Reading to London by about two hours. 

In June, 1839, the line was opened as far 
as Twyford. In July the station at Heading 
was being built. This first railway station 
at Reading cost £12,000. At last, on March 
30th, 1840, the line was opened to Reading. 
This notable day was marked by special 


celebrations. An immense number of people 
came from the neighbourhood to see the first 
train arrive. Seats for spectators were placed 
on the station platform, and thousands of 
people stood in the Eorbury and on Forbury 
Hill. The fastest trip made on the first day 
from London to Reading occupied one hour 
and five minutes. The trains were met by 
omnibuses from the Crown and the Bear Inns. 
In 1844 the Great Western Hotel was opened 
in order to supply the needs of railway pas- 
sengers. Prom this time forward the old 
coaching inns on the western and southern 
sides of Heading began to lose importance, 
for the coaches soon ceased to run, and they 
were too far from the station to be able to 
profit by the railway traffic. In 1841 the 
Great Western Railway was completed as far 
as Bristol. 



Por four centuries, from about 1250 to 1650, 
the making of cloth was the chief industry in 
Reading. But the cloth trade was ruined by 
the Civil War of the seventeenth century, and 
though much sail-cloth was made in Beading 
between 1700 and 1800, yet the old industry 
never recovered. After 1800 hardly a trace 
of it remained. Por some time the only 
product for which Beading was specially 
noted was Cocks' Reading Sauce, first made 
more than a hundred years ago. In later 
times Beading has been noted for its ales, its 
iron works, and of recent years for its print- 
ing works. But the two products for which 
Beading is noAV known throughout the world 
are seeds and biscuits. 

The seed business was taken up by the 
family of Sutton early in the nineteenth 
century. At that time it was very difficult 
for farmers and gardeners to get seeds of good 
quality, which could be trusted to grow into 



healthy plants of the right sort. Many per- 
sons who professed to sell pure seeds knew 
nothing abont their quality or what they 
wonld produce, and often mixed seeds that 
were good with seeds that were worthless. 
Martin Hope Sutton (1815—1901) when still 
a lad took a great interest in all that had to 
do with plants and grasses and seeds. In the 
days before railways, he made long journeys 
on foot in order to see the best-managed 
gardens. It was he who planted the first 
bed of tulips ever seen in Heading. In 1837, 
at the age of twenty-two, he began business 
as a seed-merchant. His father, John Sutton, 
joined him, and thus the firm Avas first known 
as John Sutton & Son. 

The new business prospered under the 
skilful management of Martin Hope Sutton 
and his brother Alfred, who joined him in 
1843. When, in 1847, famine raged in Ireland, 
because of the failure of the potato crop, the 
Suttons were able to advise the Government 
what measures to adopt. With their aid, 
great quantities of the seeds of turnip, beet, 
cabbage, and other quickly growing vegetables, 
were sent over to Ireland. About the same 
date the penny post was introduced, and 
railways were being made in all directions. 
The Suttons were quick to see that by 



undertaking to forward seeds carriage free by 
post and rail, they would attract customers, not 
only from Reading and the neighbourhood, 
but from all over the country. Prom this 
time their business grew by leaps and bounds. 
Their illustrated catalogues of seeds, flowers, 
and vegetables became known not only 
throughout Britain but throughout the world. 
They spared no pains to sell only the best 
and purest seeds ; and, by thousands of ex- 
periments, they found out the best ways of 
growing them and of securing new varieties 
of vegetables and flowers. Every farmer and 
gardener in Britain has gained by these 

The stores, order rooms, and offices of the 
firm noAY occupy nearly seven acres of 
ground. Within the buildings is a private 
post-office, through which as many as 15,000 
letters and parcels have been sent to customers 
in one day. Nothing but the most careful 
order and system could enable the huge 
amount of daily business to be accomplished 
without confusion. Orders may range from 
a hundred tons of potato tubers to a tiny 
packet, hardly bigger than a pin's head, of 
some rare seed worth ten times its weight 
in gold. Eighty clerks are kept busy in 
booking the orders which pour in by post, 


telegraph, and telephone. On the east side 
of Heading, along the Great Western Hail- 
way, the firm possesses large grounds and 
glass houses for testing seeds by actual 
growth and for making other experiments. 
These experiments are conducted with great 
care, and day by day the progress of the 
seedlings is recorded. 

The Biscuit Factory, which to-day is of so 
vast a size, grew from small beginnings. It 
was in 1841 that George Palmer came to 
Heading and joined Thomas Huntley in 
business. For some years, all the biscuits 
they sold were made by hand. In 1846 
wheat became much cheaper owing to the 
removal of duties on corn. Cheap corn and 
the invention of clever machinery by George 
Palmer, made it possible to produce biscuits 
in large quantities and at a low price. Yet 
many years passed before the business of the 
firm grew to anything like its present size. 
Perseverance and skilful management, and 
constant attention to the quality of the 
biscuits, steadily brought their reward. In 
1851 the firm employed 200 people ; in 1862 
it employed 400. By 1867 the number had 
risen to 996. Ten years later it had multiplied 
threefold, and at the present time the total is 
more than 6,000. Thomas Huntley died in 


1857, but George Palmer had already been 
joined by his brothers Samuel and William 
Isaac, and the progress of the business never 

Every one who lives in Reading has often 
heard of the gigantic work carried on at the 
Biscuit Factory. The factory buildings and 
the railways which bring the enormous 
supplies of butter, milk, eggs, flour, cocoanuts, 
and other materials, cover twenty-four acres 
of ground. Reading biscuits are sent in vast 
quantities to every part of the civilised world, 
and they find their way even to remote 
districts of Asia, Africa, and America, peopled 
only by wild tribes. The growth of the 
Biscuit Factory and the industries connected 
Avith it, such as the manufacture of tins, has 
been the chief reason for the astonishing 
increase in the population of Beading during 
the last fifty years. 

Martin Hope Sutton, George Palmer, and 
William Isaac Palmer are noted in the 
annals of Beading, not only as men of 
wonderful business energy but as liberal 
benefactors. They believed it to be their 
duty to help those who were less fortunate 
than themselves ; and with this aim they 
not only bestowed great gifts, but they gave 
also their time and energy, For their 


benevolence and public spirit, of which so 
many proofs exist in Reading to-day, the 
founders of the great firms connected with 
seeds and biscuits will always be held in 



The nineteenth century witnessed wonderful 
changes in Britain and in all civilised coun- 
tries. The steam engine, the railway, the 
telegraph, the employment of new knowledge 
in the service of man, have quite changed 
the conditions of life. Prom a country of 
farmers, Britain has become a country of 
manufacturers. Population has grown enor- 
mously. Never before in the life of mankind 
have changes so great come so swiftly. What, 
in the case of Beading, have these changes 
really meant ? 

A* The Old Times* 

In 1801 Beading was not much bigger in 
appearance than it was in 1610. Most of the 
houses lay, as in 1610, within the triangle 
formed by (1) Briar Street, (2) the Market 
Place, Duke Street, London Street, and Silver 
Street, (3) Southampton Street, Bridge Street, 
and St. Marv's Butts. There were no suburbs. 

The great change. 215 

The corner by the Friary was still called Toivn 
End. Caversham was a little village separated 
from Reading by meadows. Farm lands 
bordered Oxford Road and London Road. 
Queen's Road and King's Road had not been 
made. Cattle grazed on the sites of the 
Biscuit Factory and the Gas Works. The 
yiew from Forbury Hill was still unspoilt 
by railway banks. Some streets, such as 
London Street, were wide and pleasant ; but 
there were many narrow and unhealthy courts 
and alleys. Parts of Broad Street and St. 
Mary's Butts were so narrow, owing to blocks 
of houses in the middle of the street, that two 
carriages could not pass abreast. The ground 
now occupied by the Forbury Gardens was 
a waste where rubbish was shot. The only 
lofty buildings in the town were the three 
old churches, the Water Tower in Mill Lane, 
the Oracle in Minster Street, and the County 
Gaol in the Forbury. # The streets were lined 
with quaint old houses with gabled fronts. 
Seen from a distance, the little town seemed 
to repose beneath its churches among the 
meadows. In 1801 it contained fewer than 
10,000 people, and was nothing more than an 
old-fashioned country town, noted for its 

* The Water Tower and the Oracle have been pulled 
down. The Gaol has been rebuilt. 


markets and fairs. On market days it was 
thronged with white - smocked countrymen, 
whose broad-wheeled carts and waggons were 
backed up against the houses in the Market 

The coach journey from Reading to London 
took five or six hours. Those who rode inside 
had to pay twelve or sixteen shillings ; out- 
side fares were from six to ten shillings. 
Before 1839 there was no official daily post 
between Reading and London. A letter 
posted in Reading at nine on Monday morn- 
ing would not reach Birmingham till nine on 
Wednesday morning. Before 1825 there was 
no post at all between Reading and such near 
places as Henley. The institution of the 
penny post in January, 1811, caused the 
number of letters delivered in Reading to 
leap from 3,800 to 10,000 a month. Yet at 
this time there were only four or five post- 
men, and their uniforms were presented to 
them by public subscription. The first steam 
barge ever seen in Reading passed along the 
Kennet in 1813, and the first steam-driven, 
wheeled vehicle seen in Reading was a wag- 
gon which passed through the town in 1829. 
There was no railway till 1810. 

Until 1835 the people of Reading had no 
share in electing members of the Corporation. 


The Corporation themselves filled any vacant 
places in their number, and carried on their 
business in private. It cannot be said that 
the town was well managed. The streets 
were badly paved and dirty. People often 
tripped over heaps of rubbish into pools of 
filthy water. Dust flew in clouds, for there 
were no water-carts. In the winter season, 
the streets were dimly lighted by 218 oil 
lamps, except on the four nights before and 
the one night after a full moon. Gas was 
first used in the streets in 1819. The supply 
of water was wretched. A machine in Mill 
Lane pumped up water out of the Kennet 
into a large tank in Broad Street. Thence 
it was taken in mains made of hollow elm 
trees,* and from these mains, leaden pipes 
branched off to some of the houses. The 
water was not filtered. Sometimes it was 
the colour of chocolate, and sometimes fish 
swam up the pipes and stuck there. Many 
people had no water supply except wells, 
which often lay near to cesspools. Some 
improvements in the water supply were made 
about 1820 ; but it was many years before the 
town obtained a regular supply of juire water. 
If a fire broke out, the alarm was given 

* An example of these wooden pipes is preserved in the 
Reading Museum. 


by ringing the church bells and by beating 
drums. Each parish had its own hand- 
worked fire-engine. This engine was usually 
out of order, always locked up, and could never 
be got in a hurry. In order to obtain water 
with which to put out the fire, a hole had to 
be cut in one of the wooden mains and part of 
the street flooded. Buckets were then filled 
and passed from hand to hand to the engine. 

The town was very unhealthy. Over- 
crowding, bad water, and bad drainage always 
produce illness. The burial grounds attached 
to the churches were so full, that new graves 
had to be made in the paths. There was no 
cemetery till 1843. There was no proper 
drainage system. As a rule the drainage of 
each house ran into a deep pit behind it. In 
1849 it was said that there were 2,700 of these 
foul pits, or cesspools. The ground became 
soaked with sewage, and the drinking wells 
were fouled. In hot weather horrible smells 
poisoned the air. Por years before 1850, fever 
was hardly ever absent from Heading . At 
last the Public Health Act, passed by Parlia- 
ment in 1848, was applied to Reading, and 
from that time these evils began to abate. 
Before 1839 there was no hospital. There 
was, however, a dispensary, and there were 
other agencies for helping people in distress. 

The great change. 219 

The number of places of worship was, of 
course, much smaller than it is to-day. The 
severe laws against nonconformists had not 
yet all been removed, and feeling ran high on 
this subject. The pioneer of Sunday Schools 
in Reading seems to have been William 
Bromley Cadogan, a noted vicar of St. Giles's 
church (1774 — 1797). The pioneer of tem- 
perance in Reading seems to have been John 
Howard Hinton, Baptist minister in Beading 
(1820 — 1837). Owing to the presence at the 
King's Arms Inn, on Castle Hill, of many 
French priests, who had fled from the perils 
of the great revolution in Prance, a Roman 
Catholic congregation was formed in Reading 
about the end of the eighteenth century. 
There was much strictness about the obser- 
vance of Sunday. 

Parliamentary elections were usually scenes 
of disorder. Polling might go on for eight 
days. Voting took place in public, and there 
was much bribery and unfairness. In one 
instance a man received £50 for his vote. In 
another case two landlords threatened to turn 
out of house and home any tenant of theirs 
who did not vote as they wished. Pighting 
often took place in the streets. Each side 
supplied strong beer to its supporters ; the 
barrels stood open in the street. Sometimes 


voters were kept drunk until they should be 
wanted. Much trouble and expense were 
lavished on processions. Shouting mobs, led 
by women carrying garlands, paraded the 
town, dragging the candidate in his carriage. 
The elected candidates were carried round 
the town in chairs on the shoulders of their 
supporters, and they were expected to throw 
silver among the crowd. The Mayor perhaps 
was glad when an election was safely over. 
On one occasion as he was crossing High 
Bridge some one tapped him on the shoulder. 
When he looked round, a person on the other 
side of him fired off a blunderbuss close to 
his ear. 

We have already heard that there were no 
public elementary schools in Reading before 
1810. Reading School, however, was very 
famous under Dr. Valpy, who was head 
master for fifty years (1780—1830). Then 
there were the Elue Coat School and the 
Green Girls' School, and a few private schools. 
People were beginning to read more, and es- 
pecially to take interest in science; but pro- 
gress was slow, and the number of such 
persons was yet small. Rooks were few and 
not cheap. Lectures were given occasionally, 
but they were not always very instructive. 
There was no free library, or reading room, 


or museum, though there were some private 
libraries for well-to-do peoj^le. The people 
generally were very ignorant. Gradually, 
however, the desire for education spread. In 
1840 a Mechanics' Institution was formed, 
and it deserves honour as the pioneer of 
popular education in Reading. It occupied 
the stone building with large columns, noAv 
a place of worship, in London Street. Every 
winter it provided a programme of lectures 
and classes in the evenings. Ey 1850 the 
time had passed away when it could be said 
with truth, that the only book studied in 
Reading, besides the Bible, was Old Moore's 
Almanac. It should be mentioned that 
Reading people took much interest in music, 
and that from time to time musical festivals, 
at which the works of great composers like 
Handel were performed, were held in the 
Town Hall, or in St. Lawrence's church. 

Times about 1800 were hard for the poor. 
From 1809 to 1815 the price of the gallon 
loaf in Reading varied from Is. 7d. to 3s. 2d. 
During the year 1812, it never cost less than 
2s. 6d. Meat was cheaper. Tea cost, in 1811, 
from 7s. to Us. a pound. Every one drank 
beer. Candles, in 1813, cost 15s. 6d. a dozen. 
Coals fetched extravagant prices whenever 
the waterways were frozen. Erom Christmas 


Day, 1813, to March, 1814, no coals reached 
Reading ; the distress was terrible, and the 
streets were filled with starving people. 
There were no savings banks, no benefit 
societies, no co-operative stores. Much money 
was spent in charity, but without proper care- 
fulness. Large sums were spent by the 
parishes in poor relief, but it was observed 
that those who really deserved help seldom 
got it. Each parish had its own poorhouse. 
The poorhouses were managed in a wasteful, 
disorderly way, and were the resort of idle 
and vicious people who were allowed to 
loaf away their days, doing nothing. This 
bad system continued till 1834, when the 
English Poor Laws were reformed. The first 
Board of Guardians in Reading was elected 
in 1835. 

During the great wars with Erance (1793 
— 1815) soldiers were continually in Heading. 
Trooj)s were quartered in the town ; five 
public-houses in London Street were used as 
recruiting stations. There were two bodies 
of local Volunteers. Magazines of j^owder 
were also kept at Reading ; military music 
enlivened the streets ; and, at night, it some- 
times happened that knockers were wrenched 
off doors, and watchmen knocked down, by a 
party of officers going home after revelry, 


One day, early in 1815, there was a scene in 
London Street which was long remembered. 
At dawn bugles rang out and householders 
looked forth from their windows. They saw 
the street lined with soldiers, some in uniform 
and some not. These men were destined to 
fight at Waterloo. A year previously they 
had been disbanded, but were now hastily 
called from their homes, because the news 
had come that Napoleon had escaped from 

Yet, perhaps, the prisoners at Reading 
showed most clearly the magnitude of those 
wars. These prisoners of war represented six 
nations — Dutchmen, Norwegians, Americans, 
French, Germans, and Danes. The towns- 
people did what they could to lighten the 
dulness of their captivity. They bought their 
knick-knacks, carved out of mutton bones ; 
a leading doctor attended the Danes without 
charge ; a kindly Quaker befriended the 
Frenchmen ; and, at the close of the war, a 
fund was raised to help them to return to 
their homes. Some of the prisoners had been 
in Heading so long that many townsmen were 
sorry when they left. 

There were not so many amusements then 
as now. There was no cycling, tennis, cro- 
quet, or golf. Cricket and football were 


played a little, but only in a rough-and-ready 
way. Few people cared to bathe in the river, 
and such a thing as a rowing-boat or pleasure- 
boat was hardly ever seen. There were then, 
however, some sports which happily have since 
disappeared. In 1815 people went from 
Heading to see a bull baited by dogs at 
Wokingham ; when darkness fell, the crowd 
fought among themselves. In 1823 there was 
a prize-fight at Ruscombe. The fight lasted 
an hour and a half, and the beaten man was 
nearly battered to pieces. A clergyman was 
among the spectators. 

Village Revels were often held, when back- 
sword and wrestling were the chief sports. 
In 1827 a Maying took place in Whitley 
Wood. A bower of green branches was built, 
and a game of cricket was played for ribbons. 
Until 1815. Reading Races were held every 
year on Bulmershe Heath. Archery was 
often practised. In the winter season there 
were plays at the theatre, and concerts, balls, 
and assemblies at the Town Hall. It was 
important to select a moonlight evening for 
one of these parties. Ladies were carried to 
and from evening parties in sedan chairs. 
Travelling showmen often passed through 
Reading. One exhibited the skeleton of a 
whale ; another exhibited Napoleon's carriage, 


taken at Waterloo. Sometimes " Mr. Green," 
or somebody else, went np in a balloon. 

Such were the old times in Reading. The 
town was small, old-fashioned, and unhealthy. 
The coaches and posts were, according to our 
ideas, slow and expensive. The town was 
badly lighted, badly supplied with water, and 
badly drained. There was much religious 
effort, but also a good deal of religious strife. 
There was increasing interest in politics, but 
Parliamentary elections were often disgrace- 
fully conducted. There were few schools and 
much ignorance. Every winter there was 
grievous distress among the poor, and no one 
understood how to deal with it. The town was 
kept lively by the coming and going of soldiers 
and of prisoners of war, and by the ringing of 
bells to celebrate the victories of our nation by 
land and sea. There were fewer amusements, 
but some of those practised were more brutal 
than any which exist now. 

People took life as it came in a stolid, 
cheerful sort of way, and they were not in a 
hurry. The pace of life was quieter, and if 
this meant that more evils were tolerated, 
it also meant that people were less driven 
and anxious, and had more time to turn 
things over in their minds than they have 
now. Our great-grandparents had strong 



views about right and wrong, and they clung 
to old customs with obstinacy. Their stubborn 
character carried them through harder times, 
and greater dangers from foreign foes, than 
any their descendants have known. 

THE GREAT CHANGE {continued). 

B- The New Times* 

Most of us have witnessed at Reading station 
the approach, at full speed, of a westward- 
hound express. A sudden cry of " stand 
back " runs along the platform. Par down 
the shining rails, the dark mass of the express 
looms bigger and bigger. The shoulders of 
the giant engine sway as it rushes onward, 
rending the air with its warning scream. 
In a thunder of smoke and wind and sound, 
the train sweeps by. It flies into the distance, 
and is gone. 

The express speaks to us of the new age 
into which Britain has passed. It tells of 
new knowledge. It tells of forces of nature, 
harnessed by science to the service of man. 
It tells of the swifter pace of life, and of 
factories and cities, of travel, of commerce 
reaching over the world. It tells of 
the break-up for ever of the old secluded 
life of village and country town in which 


men were content to live and die as 
their fathers had done before them. The 
express is a symbol of a new age and a 
new life. 

There are now about eight times as many 
people in Beading as there were in 1801. 
The growth is shown by the census records : — 

1801 . ... 9,421 





















Thus in the last quarter of a century the 
population has nearly doubled. Eeading is 
fast becoming a big town, chiefly because of 
the growth of new industries and of its 
excellent railway approaches. The presence 
of so many more people has, of course, 
changed the appearance of the town. Scores 
of new streets and roads have sprung up 
outside the ancient limits. New places of 


worship, public buildings, and factories have 
arisen. Old shops and houses have been 
replaced by new and bigger ones. Old streets 
have been widened. The town has become 
so far spread that we must have cabs and 
trams to carry us from one part to another. 
A person who knew Reading in 1800 would 
hardly recognise it to-day. 

Not only is Reading much bigger, but the 
people in it lead different lives and have 
different thoughts from their great- grand- 
parents. This is how the great change has 
done most. Let us try to trace its work 
in our own town. 

I. People are more humane. — Nowadays 
we do not enjoy public exhibitions of pain 
and suffering. We forbid them as degrading. 
Therefore, murderers are no longer hanged 
in public ; lawbreakers are not flogged in 
the streets, nor stoned in the pillory ; bull- 
baitings, cock-fights, and prize-fights have 
been stopped. We no longer put a man to 
death because he is a thief ; and we are more 
sensitive to suffering in any form. Dogs 
may not be used to drag carts, and persons 
who are cruel to children or to animals are 
punished by law. Sick and injured persons 
are no longer left without nurses, doctors, and 
hospitals. No decent person would now think 


it amusing; to go with a crowd to watch 
prisoners working the treadmill. Prisons, 
however disagreeable, are no longer filthy 
dens of disease and neglect. In all these 
things people have become more thoughtful 
for themselves and others. We have learned 
that even if we would be kind we must use 
thought and method. It is not kind to fling 
away money and food recklessly in times of 
distress, or to allow idle and vicious people 
to waste their days in a disorderly poorhouse, 
or to allow children to grow up in such 
surroundings. The terrible problems of 
modern poverty cannot thus be solved, and 
there is ground for hope in the fact that the 
nation thinks and feels more about suffering, 
and how best to avoid or diminish it, than it 
did formerly, 

II. JPeople understand better the laws of 
health.— This is due to the teachings of 
science and of the doctors. For centuries the 
English people, like other peoples, paid 
heavily in disease and death for neglect of 
the laws of health. We now know why it is 
not safe to drink dirty water, to do without 
drains and scavengers, to live without proper 
ventilation and light, to bury the dead in 
churchyards already overcrowded. It is now 
many years since, in Heading, these gross evils 


were remedied. Nor is it now lawful to build 
narrow alleys, and courts, and streets ; or to 
build cottages as small and unhealthy as some 
of those of old days. Factories and workshops 
must satisfy rules ensuring conditions of 
health and safety. We now understand 
the advantages of fresh air and exercise. 
Hundreds of pleasure-boats are to be seen 
upon the Thames. Swimming, rowing, 
cricket, and football are far more popular 
than they used to be. New outdoor pursuits, 
like cycling, have come into fashion. Open 
spaces for recreation and exercise have been 
improved and increased. The Forbury, once 
a waste, is now a garden : and to-day we also 
possess Palmer Park, Prospect Park, and the 
King's Meadow. 

III. People have wider interests than for- 
merly. — The life of the town is no longer pent 
up within itself, jealous of intruders, rarely 
coming into contact with the great world out- 
side. This old local seclusion and separateness 
was broken up by the railway, the penny post, 
the telegraph, and the telephone. It can 
never return. Not only do all classes travel 
about the country more than they did, but 
they have become citizens of the world. Every 
day letters and telegrams pour into Reading 
from all parts of Britain and from distant 


lands. If a great event happens, the news 
flashes round the globe and from city to city 
on the electric wires. Steam and electricitv 
have bound together all the branches of the 
human family, and they have altered the 
conditions of civilised life more than any 
other change except the alphabet and the 
printing press. 

IV. People read more, and more people are 
educated. — Instead of one weekly paper in 
Reading, there are now four. Every day piles 
of London newspapers and magazines are 
brought by rail and distributed. At the Free 
Library there are quantities of books, papers, 
and magazines, which any one can read with- 
out payment. Consider, too, what has become 
of the movement which, in 1810 and 1813, 
gave to Heading its first public elementary 
schools. Almost every person can now at least 
read and write. No child, however poor, is 
allowed to grow up in ignorance. Splendid 
elementary schools stand in all parts of the 
town. In addition to them there are the 
Kendrick Schools for boys and girls. Reading 
School has moved to a larger site, and has 
been rebuilt. The University College has 
arisen, to provide higher education for those 
who have finished schooling. All through 
the winter there are lectures, and evening 


classes in many subjects, and concerts. 
People no longer sit at home by the fireside, 
afraid to go out because the streets are dark 
and footpads lurk in corners. Changed indeed 
is the life of Reading in these respects. 

Yet man is not a nobler creature for being 
able to read, if he only reads trash. Slip- 
shod notions about things in general do not 
help him or any one else. He is not much 
better for plentiful means of education, unless 
he has the will to learn, the will to endure 
systematic effort. Amid the lavish plenty of 
a cheap press, he must learn to form his 
choice of books according to a high standard. 
Tn poetry, in fiction, in history, in science he 
must turn to the master-writers of lasting 
fame. On no other terms can the only know- 
ledge worth having be won. 

These, then, are some of the ways in which 
the life and character of Reading has deeply 
changed in modern times. There are many 
others. For example, it is likely that people 
work harder than they did formerly, since in 
every walk of life competition is severer. A 
century ago Reading was a town of small busi- 
nesses and workshops ; nowadays some of the 
businesses are upon a great scale, and factories 


have taken the place of small workshops. 
The shop windows are now fnll of goods 
brought from all parts of the world, and most 
articles — such as cloth, furniture, and metal 
goods — are now made by machinery, and not 
by hand. Again, as the town has grown 
bigger, and interests have become more wide- 
spread, and people move from place to place 
more easily, perhaps the old feeling, that the 
inhabitants of Reading are as one large 
family, has grown weaker. Many persons 
would say that it is only by accident that 
they live in Reading, and not in another place, 
and that they cannot pretend to take any 
interest in the town. We cannot imagine all 
Reading people dining together in the streets 
nowadays, or even wanting to do so. On the 
other hand, the management of town affairs 
is no longer centred in a few hands and car- 
ried on secretly. The Town Council is elected 
by the votes of great numbers of citizens, and 
what is done by the Council, or by the 
Education Committee, or by the Board of 
Guardians, is done publicly. 

Reading is now less often the scene of 
events of national importance, for modern 
Britain is dotted with towns, many of which 
are far bigger than Reading. Nor has modern 
Reading any claim to equal, in respect of the 


beauty and grandeur of its "buildings, the 
Reading of the Abbey and the Friary. Never- 
theless, of all the towns in southern England 
inheriting famous traditions from the middle 
ages, none, perhaps, has shown as great an 
energy in modern times as the town of Read- 
ing. Some, it would seem, are content to say, 
IVe have been famous, let us now rest. But 
Reading has scorned to rest; wide fame is 
hers to-day, no less than when her Abbey 
flourished, though it may be fame of another 
kind. Her life and growth are not spent. 


Stirred up with high hopes- of living to be brave men 
and worthy patriots, dear to God and famous to all 
-John Milton. 

Love of home and love of fatherland are in- 
stincts deeply rooted in the heart of civilised 
man. Upon their vigorous health depends 
the true greatness of cities and states. It is, 
indeed, well to cultivate patriotism without 
loss of manners. Because we belong to 
Reading, we need not, as in old days, cherish 
dislike and jealousy of less fortunate people 
who dwell beyond her borders. Because we 
are Britons, we need not denounce Spaniards 
and Frenchmen as our natural enemies. In 
the words of a great man, it is our duty so 
to be patriots^ as not to forget we are gentle- 
men. A gentleman, it has been well said, 
is one who never willingly inflicts pain. 

We are to be patriots. Because we care 
for what lies beyond the horizons of Beading, 
we are not to think meanly of Reading. 



Because we are courteous to foreigners, we are 
not to be any the less staunch Englishmen 
and Britons. We are to respect ourselves. 
We are charged with a noble stewardship. 
We stand at the end of a long line, heirs of 
famous traditions, citizens of a great land. 
It is true that the past of no country has 
been free from stain or from unhappiness. 
But it is not of her shortcomings that the 
strong man thinks, when he recalls the 
memory of his mother ; and, therefore, 
when we think of our native town or our 
native land, we are to recall what is best. To 
Beading, as we have seen, belong a thousand 
years of history. Famous names are written 
in her annals ; high achievement has been 
hers more than once ; her life has exemplified 
memorable passages in the larger life of 
England. Let these things enter into our 
minds. The psalmist bade men mark well 
the palaces and towers of Sion, that they 
might tell them that came after. St. Paul 
was proud to be a citizen of Tarsus. We 
may be glad to be associated with a town 
which has played no mean part in the history 
of England. 

As for England, the mother of nations, 
we may well remember that those, who have 
wrought for her most greatly and spoken of 


her most finely have loved her most. We 
may well be proud to belong to a country 
for which Alfred, Elizabeth, Cromwell, Pitt, 
and Nelson felt so touching a devotion ; to a 
country which for Tennyson was — 

A land of just and old renown; 

and for Shakespeare — 

This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land, 
Dear for her reputation through the world. 


Abbey of Battle, property of, 36-7 

Abbey of Cluny, 41 

Abbey of Reading- (see Heading) 

Agreement of 1254, 79-80 

Aldwortb, Richard, 175-6 

Ales, Church, 90 

Alfred (at Reading), 27 

Amusements, 223-4, 231 

Ashdown, Battle of, 28 

Aston, Sir Arthur, 153, 157, 159 

Avon Canal, Kennet and, 190 

Baptists, 173 

Basing, Marquis of, 129 

Battle Abbey, property of, 36-7 

Becket, Thomas, 70-1 

Bells, 91 

Biscuits, 211-2 

Blagrave, John, 95, 118 

„ „ benefactions of, 

Blue Coat School, foundation of, 

Bordars, 35 

Bowyer, Ludowick, 131-4 
Bridge, Cavers bam, 21, 74, 116, 

152, 157-8, 188 
British School, 200-1 
Bull baiting, 224 
Bunyan, John, 173 
Burgesses of Parliament, 140-4 
Burh of Reading, 35-6 

Cadogan, William Bromley, 219 
Canal, Kennet and Avon, 190 
Canals and roads, 187-92 
Catholic congregation, 219 

Caversham Bridge, 21, 74, 116 

152, 157-8, 188 
Cemetery, 218 
Charles I. (at Reading), 152-3 

„ ,, execution of, 168 
Cheese Fair, 193-5 
Church Ales, 90 
Churches (see Saint and Grey 

Churches, ancient Reading, 7 
Cloth trade, 55-6, 81, 115, 153, 

175, 187, 208 
Clunv, Abbey of, 41 
Coaching, 216 
Coaching route through Reading, 

Cocks' Reading Sauce, 208 
Cole, Thomas, 55 
College, University, 232 
Corporation, Constitution of, 

216-7, 234 
Creed, William, 96 
Cromwell, Thomas, 100, 106-7 
Cromwell, Oliver, 124-5 

„ ,, (at Reading), 


Danegeld, 33 n 
Danes (at Reading), 25, 31-2 
Decree of 1507, 84 
Domesday Book, 33-8 
Drainage, 117, 218, 230 
Duel of 1163, 69-70 

Edward III. (at Reading), 75-6 
Edward VI. (at Reading), 112 
Edward the Martyr, 30-1 




Elections, Parliamentary, 140-4, 

Elementary Schools, 200-1 
Elfrida, nunnery of, 30-1 
Elizabeth, 94 

„ (at Reading), 114 

Englefield, Battle of, 27 
Essex, Earl of, 154-6, 161 
Ethelred, 27-8 
Ethelred the Redeless, 31 
Executions. 198 

Factory, Biscuit, 211-2 

Fairs, 193-5 

Farringdon, Hugh Cook, 104-8 

Fielding, Richard, 157-8 

Fire engines, 117, 217-8 

Fox, George, 173-4 

Free gift, 137 

Free Library, 232 

Free School, founding of, 92-7 

Friars, Grey (see Grey Friars) 

Friends, Society of, 173-4, 199 

Gild Hall, 62-3 
Gild Merchant, 55-66 
„ „ and Abbey, quar- 

rel between, 78-85 
Great Rebellion, causes of, 124-30 
Great Western Railway, 205-7 
Grey Friars, 50-4 

„ Church of, 8, 11, 
52-4, 155, 197 
„ „ end of, 103 

House of, 118 

Hampden, John, 136, 155, 161-3 
Handicrafts, 91 

Henry I. (founder of Reading 
Abbey), 39 
,, „ burial of, 68 
Henry II. (at Reading), 70-3 
Henry III. „ „ 74 

Henry VII. „ „ 93-4 

Henry VIII. „ „ 105 

Henry of Essex, 69-70 
Heraclius, 72-3 

Hinton, John Howard, 219 

Hock tide, 88 

Hospital, 218 

Hospital of St. John, 42, 44, 94, 

Howard, John, 196 
Huntley, Thomas, 211 

Incorporation of 1542, 84-5 
Independents, 172 
Institution, Mechanics', 221 

Juice, Thomas, 172 

Kendrick, John, benefactions of, 

Kendrick Schools, 232 
Kennet and Avon Canal, 190 
Kidnapping of Mayor, 164-6 
Knollys, Sir Francis, 109, 142 

Lancasterian School, 200-1 

Laud, William, 95, 132, 134, 
„ „ benefactions to 

Reading of, 

Library, Free, 232 

Lighting, 117, 217, 233 

Lollards, 115 n 

Lower, Lieut.-Col., 164-6 

Mace, 82, 169-70 
Marshal, William, 74 
Mary Tudor (at Reading), 113 
Mayor, kidnapping of, 164-6 
„ office and title of, 59-60, 

Mechanics' Institution, 221 
Merchant, Gild, 55-66 

„ quarrel between 

Abbey and Gild, 78-85 
Mercury, Reading, 184-6, 202-3 

Mills, 35, 37 
Milton, Christopher, 163 



Mint, 36 

Monasteries, 40 

fall of, 98-103 
Montfort, Robert of, 69-70 

National Society and Schools, 201 
Newbury, 130 

Nonconformists, 128-9, 171-4, 219 
Nunnery of Elfrida, 30-1 

Oracle, 176-7 

Palmer, George, 211-3 
Samuel, 212 
William Isaac, 212 
Palmer, Jocelin, 109-11 
Parliament, burgesses of, 140-4 
Parliamentary elections, 140-4, 

Parliaments (at Reading), 76 
Pauperism, 222, 230 
Penn, William, 174 
Penny post, 216 
Pillory, 119, 198-9 
Plague, 122-3 
Plays, 89 

Population, growth of, 228-9 
Prices of necessaries, 221-2 
Prisoners of war (at Reading), 

Prisons, 196-7, 230 
Prize fights, 224 
Puritans, 127-8, 117-8, 171 

Railway, Great Western, 205-7 
Rebellion, causes of Great, 

Reading, meaning of word, 14 
„ early site of, 11, 16 
,, advantages of site of, 

„ approaches to, 18-23 
,, battle with Danes at, 

„ destruction of by 

Sweyn, 31-2 
„ in Domesday Book, 

Reading, a bur It, 35-6 

,, Parliaments at, 76 

in 1610, 10 
„ in Civil War, geo- 
graphical importance 
of, 130 
„ in Civil War, fortifica- 
tions of, 155-6, 164 
., in Civil War, siege of, 
skirmish at, 179-83 
„ soldiers quartered at, 
in 1813, 9 
,, Reform Act celebra- 
tions at, 202-4 
,, coaching route 
through, 20 
fairs, 193-5 
Reading Abbey, foundation and 
buildings of, 
., ,, hallowing of, 

life at, 45 
„ ,, influence upon 

the town of, 
„ „ incidents at, 67- 

„ fall of, 98-103 
,, „ powers and dig- 

nities of Abbot 
of, 46, 67 
,, „ last Abbot of, 

Readinq Mercury, 184-6, 202-3, 

Reading School (see also Free 

School), 220 
Roads and canals, 187-92 

St. Francis, 50 

St. Giles's Church, 7, 11, 157, 182 

St. John's College, 95, 146 

St. John's Hospital, 42, 44, 94, 154 

St. Lawrence's Church, 7, 86-91, 

114, 118, 177-8 
St. Mary's Church, 7, 181 




School, Blue Coat, 175-6 
School, British or Lancasterian, 

School, Heading (or Free), 92-7, 

220, 232 
Schools, Elementary, 200-1 
Schools, Kendrick, 232 
Seeds, 208-11 
Ship Money, 135-9 
Siege of Reading, 152-60 
Skirmish, Reading, 179-83 
Society, National, 200-1 
Society of Friends, 173-1, 199 
Star Chamber punishment, 

Stocks, 119, 198 
Sunday Schools, 200, 219 
Sutton, Alfred, 209 
„ John, 209 
„ Martin Hope, 209, 212 

Tournaments (at Reading), 75-6 

Trade, Cloth, 55-6, 81, 115, 153, 
175, 187, 208 
„ Wool, 55-6 
Turner, Thomas, 95, 97 

University College, 232 

Valpv, Dr., 220 
Villeins, 34 

Wages of burgesses in Parlia- 
ment, 141 
Wallingford, 36, 164-6 
Watchmen, 197 
Water supply, 117, 217, 230 
Wessex, 24 

Western Railway, Great, 205-7 
Whipping posts, 119 
White, Sir Thomas, 95 
William III. (at Reading), 170 
Wool Trade, 55-6 

Printed and bound by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury. 

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